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I came across this clause in reading an academic text on Buddhism (1927):

...die heiligen Bücher von Indien mit heim nach China zu bringen.

I get the meaning of it, 'to bring the holy books with [them] from India back home to China', but I don't quite understand the syntax of mit here. Is mit a separable prefix, from mitbringen? Or is it modifying something else? What's the syntax here governing the placement of verb and adverbs here?

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    1) Is mit a separable prefix, from mitbringen? yes
    – choXer
    Nov 24 '20 at 10:10
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"Mit" is used as an adverb here, meaning "together with something/someone", where someone/something is implicit. Here, the implicit "someone" is probably the subject her-/himself, but it could also be other stuff the person is bringing home to China, dependent on context outside of this fragment.

For more on "mit" as an adverb, see: https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/mit_neben_damit

The verb "mitbringen" would have the same meaning, but it would not be separated here. "Mitbringen" would be used like this:

...die heiligen Bücher von Indien heim nach China mitzubringen.

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  • That is a sophisticated analysis! Could you elaborate why mitbringen would not be separated here? Nov 24 '20 at 17:42
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    Well, we generally just don't do that with separable verbs for a "zu" infinitive, do we? Put objects or adverbials between parts of the verb? <strike>"Ich mag es, an vor der Kasse zu stehen"? "Ich bin gewohnt, meinen Freunden bei in schweren Zeiten zu stehen"?</strike> I might be missing something, but I think this is quite general with "zu" infinitives.
    – HalvarF
    Nov 24 '20 at 20:13
  • @jonathan.scholbach Der Klarheit halber: die beiden Beispiele in meinem Kommentar waren Beispiele, wie man es nicht sagt. Das strike-Tag scheint nur in Antworten, aber nicht in Kommentaren zu funktionieren. Und zu taggen haben ich auch vergessen...
    – HalvarF
    Nov 24 '20 at 20:34
  • Great! Thanks for the explanation! +1 for this. I think, your comment could well be incorporated in the answer, but that's of course your decision. :) Nov 24 '20 at 22:00
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… die heiligen Bücher von Indien mit heim nach China zu bringen.

The problem with this snippet is the somewhat strange word order. I hesitate to call it wrong, but it makes understanding the syntax more difficult. Look at this more comprehensible word order:

… die heiligen Bücher von Indien heim nach China mitzubringen.

Now, you can see immediately that your idea is correct: we are dealing here with the separable verb mitbringen in the infinitive form with zu. It is composed of the separable prefix mit- and the particle verb bringen; the conjunction zu is placed in-between.

In the original snippet, where the prefix is separated and placed away from the rest, the conjunction is separated, too:

mit … zu bringen.

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    But why assume a particle verb mitbringen with the given order? 1) Other particles cannot be split from the verb in this fashion: *auf nach China zu brechen, *aus nach China zu wandern. 2) The second order, with mitzubringen, is less natural (certainly less common) than the first. 3) Adverbial mit has to be assumed anyway for cases in which mit combines with a particle verb: Das war schwer mit anzusehen. Ich würde gern mit auswandern.
    – David Vogt
    Nov 24 '20 at 13:07
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Please, for your next question: Always post WHOLE sentences, not fragments. Grammar is the science of joining words together to form sentences, not fragments!

Your fragment seams to be a subordinate clause. Maybe the full sentence was something like this:

Lisas Aufgabe war, die heiligen Bücher von Indien mit heim nach China zu bringen.
Lisa's task was to bring the holy books along from India home to China.

Without »heim nach China« (home to China) it would be this sentence:

Lisas Aufgabe war, die heiligen Bücher von Indien mitzubringen.
Lisa's task was to bring the holy books along from India.

The same verb in a main clause:

Lisa bringt die heiligen Bücher von Indien mit.
Lisa brings along the holy books from India.

Futur I (becasue in this tense, the verb is used in its infinite form:

Lisa wird die heiligen Bücher von Indien mitbringen.
Lisa will bring along the holy books from India.


The German verb etwas mitbringen means

  • to bring something along
  • to bring something with one

The prefix mit- always means, that something happens together with something else (German preposition mit = with). So, mitbringen means, that Lisa travels from India to China, and together with (mit) this movement she brings something from India to China.

You could also use just bringen = to bring, but there is a very subtile difference:

  1. Tom wird die Pizza zur Party bringen.
  2. Tom wird die Pizza zur Party mitbringen.

Both sentences mean "Tom will bring the pizza to the party". But in #1 it is very likely, that Tom is just the pizza delivery boy. He rings, delivers the pizza and then drives back to where he came from. In sentence #2 it is very clear, that Tom is one of the guests. He is coming because he wants to attend the party. Bringing the pizza is just the subplot.

The same is true for the person who brings the books from India to China. If you use bringen (without mit-) then the most likely meaning is, that this person acts like the pizza boy: The purpose of the travel is to deliver the book. When this is done, the person travels home to India.

But when you use mitbringen, then you say, that the person is traveling to China anyway, for some other reason. And because this person is by accident on the way to China, and the books needs to be brought there, is is a good idea, that this person brings them. But the main reason for the journey is not bringing the books, but something else.


You also already have noticed, that mitbringen is a separable verb. They split and merge depending on the grammatical context:

  • Futur I

    Er wird etwas mitbringen.

  • Präsens

    Er bringt etwas mit.

  • Perfekt (here you need the participle)

    Er hat etwas mitgebracht.

  • »Erweiterter Infinitiv« or »Infinitiv mit "zu"«

    Er beschließt, etwas mitzubringen.

So, mitzubringen should be written as one word. But only becasue it is a separable verb. Bringen is not separable, so when you use just bringen (without "mit"), the correct version is

Er beschließt, etwas zu bringen.

And now comes the trick:

You can squeeze other parts of speech between the parts of a separable verb. But when you do so, you obviously are no longer able to write the parts together as one word. And then, you have to separate al three parts:

... mitzubringen → ... mit ... zu bringen

  1. Lisas Aufgabe war, die heiligen Bücher von Indien mitzubringen.
  2. Lisas Aufgabe war, die heiligen Bücher von Indien heim nach China mitzubringen.
  3. Lisas Aufgabe war, die heiligen Bücher von Indien mit heim nach China zu bringen.

Versions 2 and 3 are both correct. It is just a matter of personal flavor which of them you prefer.

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  • I think your first sentence would fit better as a comment to the question. I don't know if you are aware of this, but some people on the internet consider writing all caps as screaming (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_caps#Association_with_shouting). Also, did you notice that hwaeom is new to german.SE? :) Nov 24 '20 at 17:47
  • @jonathan.scholbach Yes, I am aware of both facts. But are you aware, that many other people (including me) consider writing all caps just as emphasis? Nov 24 '20 at 18:08

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