Why do all English verbs have to start with "to" and German verbs don't? In English we say "to play" but in German we would just say "spielen". why don't we say "zu spielen"? Why don't we do this in German? Is it just a weird grammar thing we do in English?

  • 3
    Is there really that much of a difference? After all, this seems to be mainly a convention determining how to name verbs in a meta context -- when we use German and English verbs in actual language, the forms with and without to/zu seem to occur in similar contexts. If I were to speculate, maybe English verbs use to simply to unambiguously mark them as verbs (since you can "verb any noun", there usually exists a noun with the same spelling). Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 9:00
  • Im Deutschunterricht wurde bei jedem Verb der Infinitiv vorgestellt - spielen und zu spielen. Die Annahme, zu spielen würde nicht gesagt, ist also falsch. Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


Maybe it's because the infinitive of German verbs is the root + "-en" ("kochen"), or "-ln"/"-rn" ("lächeln", "meistern"), plus they are written in lowercase, so it's easy to see that they are verbs even without a "zu" before.

But in English you have "smile" (noun), "smile" (verb) - likewise for "cook", "beat", "play" etc. - so you need something to differentiate those words. The suffix mentioned above effectively fulfills that function.

  • Thats a good point, like to play could mean to play a sport but just play could mean 2 different things, it could mean play, as in a play, or play, as in to play.
    – John
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 21:25

First of all, language is an expression of personality.

You can say "Willst du spielen?", "Hast du Lust zu spielen?", shorter and childish "Willst spielen?" or even "Spielen?". All examples are correct but saying more...revealing the personality of the speaker or his intention.

Well this works in English "Play?", "Do you want to play" or "Would you like playing ...".

English provides "to" and "the" which can be use ubiquitously, makes it an easier and predictable language.

It's not very different -IMO-, just style and intention in spoken language.

  • You can say is true, but does not mean it is correct usage of the Language. I can ask Bahnhof? in a foreign city, but that doesn't make it a German question. Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 16:48

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