I have encountered this sentence:

Ich habe vorsichtig zu ergründen gesucht, wie er wirklich ist.

I understand the general meaning but what is "zu ergründen" doing? I need to understand how this sentence got built so I can do the same or something similar in the future. Please explain the structure of this sentence to me. Literal translation to English would help.

  • 1
    It's an infinitive as with many verbs and zu. Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 18:37
  • 2
    That is absolutely congruent with the English "I tried to find out..."
    – tofro
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 18:57
  • 1
    Even more parallel: sought to fathom.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 22:57

1 Answer 1


In addition to other uses of zu with an infinitive, the zu + inifinitive construction can also appear with another verb, which is occasionally referred to as the semi-auxilliary verb. The main role of the semi-auxilliary verb is to change the meaning of the infinitive in some way, much as the modal auxilliary verbs do. When used in this way, the semi-auxilliary verb encloses the infinitive.


Sie hat uns zu verstehen gegeben, daß sie morgen kommt.

The book, Hammer's German Grammar and Usage by Martin Durrell (ISBN 0-8442-2208-9) has an extended discussion of the various different forms of the zu + infinitive construction, including the kind of infinitive clause that you provide. The example above is taken from Durrell.

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