This is from a translation of C Dicken's A Christmas Carol, which can be found here:

Die Kälte in seinem Herzen machte seine alten Züge erstarren,

Why is this not,

Die Kälte in seinem Herzen machte seine alten Züge zu erstarren,

and if I were to attempt to write something similar, what research could I do that would reveal to me that machen in this usage requires a bare infinitive?

  • Basically the same question here (although that question only mentions cases and prepositions, the same situation holds for verbal complements).
    – David Vogt
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 23:05
  • I gather from the given link that one basically must look for existing examples. But I would like to know how that would be done. For instance, if I want to write the above sentence I would need to find sentences that included both machen and erstarren. How would I do that? I have tried both a Google search and a search in DWDS without success.
    – user44591
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 23:28
  • 3
    This seems to be a rather dated translation. It's so old that it sounds wrong to me. Nowadays you would say "Die Kälte in seinem Herzen ließ seine alten Züge erstarren". Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 0:32
  • 1
    Note that this problem exists English too. Compare It made me feel sorry vs I asked him to come.
    – RHa
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 7:18
  • 1
    @David Vogt -- Many of the verbs listed in that answer are given here. Some are also listed here. I thought this Grammis entry was the most relevant. But I still haven't found any kind of general rule that covers everything; perhaps it's just random. Apparently brauchen is even more of a modal non-modal verb, see Wiktionary.
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 9:08

1 Answer 1


We recently had the question: If I encounter a verb in the Duden, how can I tell which grammatical cases and prepositions to use with that verb?

Although that question only talks about cases (i.e. nouns or nominals) and prepositions, one could just as well add verbs to it and the answer would remain the same: It simply has to be learned (i) whether a verb can be combined with another verb and (ii) what form the dependent verb takes.

German has three infinitives governed by verbs (Statusrektion):

  1. einfacher Infinitiv, bare infinitive: gehen
  2. zu-Infinitiv, infinitive with zu: zu gehen
  3. Partizip II, past participle: gegangen

Learners will encounter these bit by bit when they are taught periphrastic tenses, moods, and voices. To give an example for each:

  1. bare infinitive with modal verbs:
    ich/er/sie will, muss, kann … gehen
  2. infinitive with zu with scheinen and the modal passive:
    die Strategie scheint zu funktionieren, die Regeln sind einzuhalten
  3. past participle in the perfect and passive:
    sie hat gewartet, er ist gegangen; die Kinder werden abgeholt

This is exactly the same pattern as with non-verbal objects, where the following contrasts have to be learned as well:

Ich helfe dir. Ich unterstütze dich.
Er fürchtet mich. Er fürchtet sich vor mir.

While the most important verbs governing infinitives, i.e. those used in expressing periphrastic tenses, moods, voices, are introduced in textbooks, learners will have to learn the rest by looking at examples in dictionaries. Let me give one example for each type of infinitive.

For machen, DWDS has under 7a:

jmdn. stutzen, frösteln, lachen, weinen, etw. vergessen machen

For brauchen, under 1b:

etw. nicht zu tun brauchen (= etw. nicht tun müssen)

For kommen, under 1e:

gelaufen, gefahren, geritten kommen

One important final point: Of the three infinitives mentioned above, infinitive with zu are special in that they and only they can appear in subordinate clauses (Infinitivkonstruktionen). Therefore, googling Verben mit zu-Infinitiv will get you lists of verbs that have clauses as complements, such as versprechen and versuchen. The examples above are different in that two verbs combine within a single clause.

  • None of the links provided make any reference to "erstarren", so the question remains, is there a systematic way to learn how to use a particular verb, with regard to the question of a bare infinitive, or is it just a matter of encountering its usage in the course of reading and acquiring the knowledge haphazardly in that way? BTW, Google translate does indicate an answer to this question, but as one is frequently reminded here, one should not rely on Google translate. So on what should one rely?
    – user44591
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 15:55
  • @user44591 To see why the particular word erstarren is irrelevant here, again compare verbal arguments to other types of arguments. The verb helfen requires a dative object; you can combine it with ihr, ihm, ihnen, der Frau, dem Mann, den Leuten or any other noun. It just needs to be a dative. The same goes for verbs governing other verbs: machen, in that particular meaning, requires a bare infinitive. Erfassen, stutzen, frösteln etc. all satisfy that condition.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 15:57
  • @user44591 As to finding out what form of infinitive to use: Dictionaries are useful, as they will usually have an example that will show what type of infinitive the governing verb (in this case machen) requires; the dependent verb (erstarrren in your case) doesn't get a say. This is the same process you would follow for verbs for which you don't know what case they govern: er folgte Petra. Petra has no case marking, so it can be anything besides genitive. So one looks for an occurrence of folgen with a pronoun or article: er folgte ihr, therefore folgen governs the dative.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 16:03
  • Instead of erfassen read erstarren at the end of the first comment.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 16:07
  • OK. I think I am beginning to see an approach. So, when I enter "Ich mach es erfrieren" in Google Translate it responds with "I make it freeze to death." And when I enter "Ich mach es zu erfrieren" it responds with "I do it to freeze to death." So if I want to say, "I make it do something..." I use the bare infinitive, but if I want to say, "I do something to something..." then I use zu. But the original sentence does not seem to be one that can unambiguously clarified by this approach. With or without the "zu" it appears to say the same thing.
    – user44591
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 16:29

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