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In English I learned that one can link verbs together by one of the following ways:

  1. Verb + to + Infinitive ( I try to help)
  2. Verb + V-ing (I like learning)
  3. Verb + preposition + V-ing (I prevent it from happening)

I guess the equivalences in german are:

  1. Verb, zu + Infinitive ( ich habe versucht zu helfen)
  2. Verb + das Infinitive (Ich mag das Lernen)
  3. Verb + preposition + das Infinitive (not even sure if the literal translation is correct, ich verhindere es von dem Geschehen?)

However, I'm not confident in using it. Some verbs in English can only be linked in certain forms, or else its meanings changes ( I want to help, not I want helping). Does the same phenomena happen in german? How does one translate complicated phrases like: "I wanted to try to help to prevent it from happening." "I like going shopping to help to prevent me from wanting to overhear my neighbor talking about eating some horrific food."

It's artificial, but you get the idea, the english construction makes it very easy to link a long list of verbs together. The german equivalent seems to make it very hard to do so, since by 1) you have to put the object of the second verb (or linked verb) before the "zu + verb" phrase, so if there is an object in between, I'm not sure how to proceed without sounding unidiomatic. ( I like going shopping to help myself to prevent me from wanting my sister to overhear my neighbor talking about...).

  • Your 3rd German example is wrong, but without more details concerning the purpose of verb linking I'm unable to fix it. – guidot Mar 6 '17 at 7:53
  • @guidot: I kind of know that it's wrong, but write it anyway for demonstration . I carefully crafted examples at the end of my question, hopefully you will understand its purpose. – Tung Nguyen Mar 6 '17 at 8:37
  • #2 is wrong. »Das Lernen« is an article plus a noun (this is why here »Lernen« has to be written with an uppercase L). Non of both words is a verb. But the construction you thought of exists: »Ich mag lernen.« The correct translation of »Ich mag das Lernen« is »I like the learning«, where learning is a noun (and therefore needs an article). – Hubert Schölnast Nov 25 '17 at 6:49
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You cannot make such a scheme.

Verbs are handled much differently in English and German. This starts at tenses, where English ist extremly elaborated and German is extremly sloppy. Further, German totally misses both continous tenses and gerundiums and so, the English -ing-form has no equivalent. Infinitives are used at other occassions in German than in English, even as a replacement for participles! German speakers like substantives and adjectives a lot and so, sentences tend to be built around various kinds of substantives and adjectives made from verbs. This is quite the opposite of English, where such things are abhored.

Please forget about this concept of yours immediately.

  • Literal translations of such English constructs (where allowed and possible) very clearly mark a lot of texts as sloppily translated from English - While allowed, the frequency of such constructs is entirely different between English and German. – tofro Nov 25 '17 at 10:09
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    In certain cases the -ing form does have an equivalent in German : learning -> lernend – PiedPiper Nov 25 '17 at 11:20
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In German, rough equivalents of your alternatives are:

  1. Verb [es], zu + Infinitive (ich versuche zu helfen (as you wrote); ich mag es, zu helfen) (some, but not all verbs work better with "es")
  2. Verb + Article + Infinitive-as-noun (ich mag das Lernen; ich unterstütze die Umverteilung)
  3. Verb + Preposition + Article + Infinitive-as-noun / Verb + "da"Preposition, zu Infinitive (ich lebe vom Brot Backen; ich lebe davon, Brot zu backen)

As you noted about English, the concrete pattern in German can also well depend on the concrete words. For instance,

"The sun starts shining." (2nd of your EN groups)

translates to

"Die Sonne beginnt zu scheinen." (1st group)

"Die Sonne beginnt mit dem Scheinen." (2nd group) is grammatical, but sounds quite unusual, and even "Die Sonne beginnt das Scheinen." is, after all, grammatical, but sounds absurdly weird.

Note that subordinate clauses are a lot more readily used in German than in English. Therefore,

"I want him to go."

becomes

"Ich will, dass er geht."

The latter pattern is not quite covered in your original list.

linked in certain forms, or else its meanings changes ( I want to help, not I want helping). Does the same phenomena happen in german?

I cannot think of an example right now, as in German, verbs and related nouns are often at least slightly different, if only in casing of the first letter.

Lastly, as Janka explained, some parts of the sentence would rather be replaced by nouns or adjectives in German.

To provide some examples of how it works in general:

I wanted to try to help to prevent it from happening.

Ich wollte bei dem Versuch helfen, zu verhindern, dass es passiert.

I like going shopping to help to prevent me from wanting to overhear my neighbor talking about eating some horrific food.

Ich gehe gern einkaufen, um mich dabei zu unterstützen, mich davon abzuhalten, meinen Nachbarn dabei belauschen zu wollen, wie er vom Verzehr eines abscheulichen Essens spricht.

I like going shopping to help myself to prevent me from wanting my sister to overhear my neighbor talking about...).

Ich gehe gern einkaufen, um mich dabei zu unterstützen, mich davon abzuhalten, von meiner Schwester zu wollen, dass sie meinen Nachbarn dabei belauscht, wie er vom Verzehr eines abscheulichen Essens spricht.

As you see, a part of the chain becomes a new subordinate clause.

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