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In conversation with my friend, I said:

Seine Possen haben alle Erwachsenen zur Verzweiflung getrieben. Man hätte fast meinen können, dass er es darauf anlegte ...

And I was wondering when I would use "zum Verzweifeln", on the other hand. I seem to opt for "zum Verzweifeln" when I say something like:

Ich weiß, die Lage ist echt zum Verzweifeln, aber ...

"Verzweiflung" and "Verzweifeln" may both translate as "despair" on the surface, but I get the impression that "zur Verzweiflung" and "zum Verzweifeln" differ in usage. I can't put my finger on exactly how, though.

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The phrase zur Verzweiflung treiben is quite idiomatic. You just wouldn't say zum Verzweifeln treiben. In general, treiben goes with nouns, also when referring to the inner state of people. There's zur Weißglut treiben, in den Wahnsinn treiben, etc.

On the other hand X ist zum Y always takes a (nominalized) infinitive as Y:

Es ist zum Weinen.

Es ist zum Lachen.

Es ist zum Aus-der-Haut-Fahren

Es ist zum Mäusemelken

Es ist zum Fürchten

This always means that X is such that Y would be a reasonable response to it.

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    Your answer is a bit unclear when it says, that treiben in general goes with nouns, since Verzweifeln is also a noun. Maybe you would like to be a bit more specific what you mean and what is the relevant difference between Verzweifeln and Verzweiflung here (merely being a noun cannot be it, since both are nouns). – jonathan.scholbach Aug 21 '19 at 21:03
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Nominalized infinitives coin the literal action into a noun. In contrary, the -ung noun of a verb is about a concept.

In diesem Vortrag geht es um das richtige Beleuchten.

In diesem Vortrag geht es um die richtige Beleuchtung.

In this example, it's mostly a matter of style. The first one makes me expect a lot of practical examples, the second one a dreadful narration of an hour.

Sometimes, you have to choose the right verb, too:

Das bringt mich zum Verzweifeln.

Das treibt mich zur Verzweifelung.

Unfortunately, there's not much logic behind that.

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