4

I understand that zu is part of the infinitive construction in German, and I also understand that um … zu is the English equivalent of in order to, specifically expressing purpose. I’m trying to make sense of the differences between the following examples, and I have a couple of questions:

Er sucht einen guten Platz zum Essen.

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz zum Fußball spielen finden.

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz finden, um mit unserer Band zu üben.

I guess my first question would be: why is zum used in the first and second sentences instead of zu?

Secondly, would the following two sentences be grammatically correct and have the same meaning as the original two?

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz finden, um Fußball zu spielen.

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz um mit unserer Band zu üben finden.

2

Note some of your examples use infinitives used as substantives, while others use plain infinitives:

Wir suchen einen guten Platz zum Essen

Uses an infinitive as a substantiated verb - It is used like a substantive ("das Essen"). It uses "zum" which is a shortened form of "zu dem", a contraction of a conjunction ("zu") with a dative article ("dem").

The same form, used with a "plain substantive" would be

Wir suchen einen guten Platz zum Picknick.

A very literal translation to English would be

We are looking for a good place for eating

On the other hand,

Wir suchen einen guten Platz, um zu essen

uses a plain infinitive, but doesn't use it as a substantive - It needs to use the conjunction "um" and "zu" to signal the infinitive.

Here a very literal translation to English would be

We are looking for a good place to eat.

Differences in meaning? No, not that I could see.

3

So, first of all, the last sentence is not correct:

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz um mit unserer Band zu üben finden.

Now let's see what this sentence exactly means:

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz finden, um Fußball zu spielen.

This means We have to find a better place in order to play football, otherwise we cannot play football at all. Whereas:

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz zum Fußballspielen finden. (please note that we write Fußballspielen without a space)

means: We have to find a better place where we can play football, but the place where we're now would probably also do.

Why? Saying um zu express purpose, as you said. For example Ich muss schwimmen lernen, um im Notfall nicht zu ertrinken. The zu is (in this case) more like English for:

Platz zum Spielen --> place for playing

Raum zum Lesen --> room for reading / reading room

eine angenehme Straße zum Joggen --> a nice street for jogging

1

In my personal experience the difference between the "um zu" and the "zum" is not as important as the position within the sentence.

If the "reason" is not located directly after the noun ("Platz") the "reason" refers to the whole sentence:

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz finden, um Fußball zu spielen.

Zum Fußballspielen müssen wir einen besseren Platz finden.

I'm not 100% sure about the official "Hochdeutsch" but in the dialect I speak both sentences have absolutely the same meaning:

The construction explains why something is or has to be done: Another place has to be found because you want to play football.

When the "zum" construction however is placed directly after the noun the meaning changes:

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz zum Fußballspielen finden.

In this case the construction "zum Fußballspielen" does not refer to the whole sentence but to the noun ("Platz"): It describes what kind of place has to be found. It does not (explicitly) give a reason why such a place must be found.

In the dialect spoken here I sometimes heared constructions like these:

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz, um Fußball zu spielen, finden.

Wir müssen einen besseren Platz finden zum Fußballspielen.

I'm not sure if these constructions are allowed in "official" German (and if yes: if the commas are correct) or if they are only used in dialect.

In the first case the "um Fußball zu spielen" is placed directly after the nown. Therefore it is a description of the place.

In the second case the "zum Fußball spielen" is not placed directly after the noun but the word "finden" is separating the noun from the construction. Therefore the construction refers to the whole sentence.

Theoretically you may even combine both cases - however most Germans would use "um zu" in this case because using "zum" twice in one sentence sounds wrong:

Zum Toreschießen müssen wir einen besseren Platz zum Fußballspielen finden.

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