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I want to know how to say, for example " I'm too busy to practice German". Would that be something like "ich bin zu beschäftigt zu Deutsch üben?". I would really appreciate it, sometimes I have a hard time making sense of german prepositions.

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  • Welcome to German.SE! Since your question is about the right preposition (in German), it's interesting that you chose too busy for in the headline and too busy to in your example. Feb 18 at 8:01
  • Lol, that's true! I guess I was thinking about a noun in the headline and about a verb in the example.
    – Geradeaus
    Feb 18 at 20:24
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You can say either

Ich bin zu beschäftigt, um* Deutsch zu üben.

or

Ich bin zu beschäftigt zum Deutschüben. (Deutschüben = one word, nominalized)

The preposition is always zu. In the first alternative you don't have a mere infinitive, but an erweiterter Infinitiv beginning with um which is considered to be subclause-equivalent. In the second alternative, you have a nominalized verb (das Deutschüben), so it becomes a substantive preceeded by an article. Because the preposition zu requires the dative, the prepositional phrase originally would be zu dem Deutschüben. However, in this case zu dem always merges into zum.


*Without um, the sentence would read I'm too busy (with) learning German.

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Although

Ich bin zu beschäftigt, (um) Deutsch zu üben.

is possible and sort of a more literal translation, I would say that the phrase

Ich habe zu viel zu tun, um Deutsch zu üben.

or

Ich komme nicht dazu, Deutsch zu üben.

are more idiomatic in German.

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  • 3
    Ich bin zu beschäftigt Deutsch zu üben (without um) would more likely mean I'm too busy with learning German from my point of view. Feb 18 at 15:30
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I'm too busy to practice German.


As already explained in other answers, both

Ich bin zu beschäftigt, um Deutsch zu üben.

and

Ich bin zu beschäftigt zum Deutschüben.

are acceptable ways to express the aforementioned statement.

However, note that both ways can be somewhat confusing because they could be interpreted differently: In both cases, the general sentence structure reflects the meaning of "in order to", that is, explaining the purpose of something. Outside of the "zu ... um zu" construction, "um zu" very uniquely means "in order to" in German.

As a native German speaker, I am regularly wary of using "zu ... um zu" for fear of being misunderstood, and generally try to circumnavigate this construction, for which there are several options:

  • Only to be used in writing, and even there, it sounds rather old-fashioned:

Ich bin zu beschäftigt, als dass ich Deutsch üben könnte.

  • More modern, and idiomatic both in written and spoken language:

Ich bin so beschäftigt, dass ich nicht/kein Deutsch üben kann.

  • Also acceptable in all contexts, but switches the order in which information is given around:

Ich kann nicht/kein Deutsch üben. Dazu bin ich zu beschäftigt.

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  • I don't get your point regarding the ambiguity. What could you mistakingly understand?
    – Nearoo
    Feb 19 at 23:44
  • @Nearoo: "I am too busy, and the purpose of my being so busy is so I cannot practice German." Feb 19 at 23:46
  • Ah, I see. I'm not sure if this interpretation would make sense semantically, both in German and English. Whenever you're too <anything>, you're too <anything> to (/for) <something> , you can't be e.g. too small just on its own, which would be the case if you're describing the purpose with the second part of the sentence.
    – Nearoo
    Feb 19 at 23:57
  • @Nearoo: The intention may be pretty obvious (well, to most people, at least) in the example given here, but consider this one: "The announced number of participants was too high to get the permission." Now, does this mean the permission was denied because the announced number of participants exceeded the acceptable maximum number? Or does it mean the participant count was intentionally overestimated in order to reach some minimum participant number required to get a permission? Both seem reasonable, and they will probably become clear from context, but IMHO, the fact that you need to know ... Feb 20 at 0:04
  • ... the context just to tell whether a given sentence means one thing or basically the opposite thereof is a sufficient reason to avoid the construction for the sake of clarity. Feb 20 at 0:05

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