I am reading a novel in German and I have come across a sentence where I don't understand the grammar. A man notices a woman standing at the entrance door to his shop and gets up to let her in, "um ihr zu öffnen" it reads in the book. Um usually takes the accusative and so if it is meant "to open the door" it should read "um sie zu öffnen" surely.

Is "um ihr zu öffnen" some way of saying "to open it (the door) for her"?

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    This isn't um, the preposition, at all. This is its twin brother, um...zu, the subordinating conjunction, which takes subclauses and not noun phrases, therefore it has no influence on case whatsoever. The dative is introduced into the equation by the verb öffnen instead. Dec 7, 2018 at 7:19

2 Answers 2


Is "um ihr zu öffnen" some way of saying "to open (the door) for her"?

Yes, exactly. You are also right, that to open the door translates to um sie/die Tür zu öffnen. But as you open the door for her, a dative object is necessary, hence ihr. I guess the sie/die Tür is not necessary because of the context, or the sentence prior to this. If you want to include a reference to the door as accusative object, you could just say:

um sie ihr zu öffnen
um ihr die Tür zu öffnen


I want to expand a little on @KilianFoth's comment.

um...zu... in German is similar to "in order to" in English:


Um... zu... means 'in order to', for example:
Ich fahre nach Deutschland, um mein Deutsch zu verbessern -> I'm going to Germany in order to improve my German.

Um schlank zu werden, habe ich eine Diät gemacht -> In order to get slim, I went on a diet.

...Um starts the section. The infinitive verb is at the end and zu comes just before. Any left overs go in-between um and zu.

There are also some SO threads discussing um...zu:

When is 'to' translated with “um zu”, when with “zu”
Preposition following “um” in an “um … zu” construction

BBC - Infinitive Construction
Zum vs. Um...Zu

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