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Wir können uns nicht erlauben, Geschäfte zu machen mit, was immer man Ihnen vorwirft zu sein.

I understand the meaning but I can't figure out the grammar behind this sentence. Why is there "zu sein"? I feel it is redundant. Can you guys please give me examples of sentences like this or explain to me the grammar behind it?

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  • 1
    This reads like a word-to-word mistranslation from English. German prepositions cannot simply take a relative clause as their complement: we cannot write "...mit was er ist", we must write "mit dem, was er ist". Sep 2 at 7:27
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    @KilianFoth I do agree the construct is uncommon, but do not agree it's wrong. "Sei, was immer du sein willst" works perfectly in German.
    – tofro
    Sep 2 at 9:41
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    @tofro That's not a preposition. Relative clauses used as pseudo-nominals, as in "Tu, was du willst" are common. But relative clauses as complements of prepositions don't exist except as mistranslations. (Of course, today's mistranslation may be tomorrow's construction...) Sep 2 at 12:53
  • Kilian Foth hat Recht. Man macht Geschäfte mit jemanden, aber nicht mit etwas. Vermutlich ist so etwas gemeint wie "Wir können uns nicht erlauben, Geschäfte zu machen, bei dem was man Ihnen vorwirft, zu sein."
    – Paul Frost
    Sep 2 at 15:27
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There is a simple reason why zu sein may at first glance be felt as superfluous: was lends itself to be misinterpreted as the accusative object of vorwerfen.

Ich weiß nicht, was man ihm vorwirft.
I don't know what he is being accused of.

However, vorwerfen can also govern an infinitive clause.

Man wirft ihm vor, gelogen zu haben.
He is accused of having lied.

In the original example, was is not the accusative object of vorwerfen, but the predicative complement of the verb sein in the infinitive clause (with the infinitive clause being the object of vorwerfen). Compare:

Man wirft ihm vor, ein Mörder zu sein.
He is accused of being a murderer.

We can replace ein Mörder by was, forming a so-called echo question.

Wie bitte? Man wirft ihm vor, was zu sein?
Come again? He is accused of being what?

In certain clauses the wh-word needs to be fronted, leading to something German grammarians have neatly called Satzverschränkung ("sentence interleaving"). The bold parts in the following sentences belong together, but was stands at the front of the matrix clause, not within the embedded clause.

Was wirft man ihm vor zu sein?
What is he accused of being?

Ich kann nicht glauben, was man ihm vorwirft, getan zu haben.
I cannot believe what he is accused of having done.

In linguistics, the convention is to indicate the base position of an fronted element by an indexed variable (in generative grammar, t stands for trace), possibly clarifying the sentence structure.

Ich kann nicht glauben, wasi man ihm vorwirft, ti getan zu haben.

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  • That's what I was looking for. Thank you I understand it now. Sep 2 at 14:11
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was immer man ihnen vorwirft, zu sein is a relative clause (more exactly: a freier Relativsatz, because it doesn't relate to a nominative part of the sentence, but rather is one itself) used as a prepositional object (with "mit").

I don't know your native language, but the sentence can be literally translated to English as

We cannot do business with whatever you are accused to be

(Note, English needs the "to be" as well - because you cannot do business with an accusation, only with a person)

Let's, for example, assume the accusation is "Mord".

was immer man ihnen vorwirft == "ein Mord"

was immer man ihnen vorwirft, zu sein == "ein Mörder"

Thus, you can't do busines with murder - but you could do business with a murderer.

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  • German tends to use the infinitive where English uses the "-ing" form, or stated the other way, English tends to use the "-ing" form where German uses the infinitive. So I would say "accused of being" rather than "accused to be". This seems like a difficult sentence to translate since vorwerfen can be interpreted number of ways in English (e.g. 'blame", "reproach"), but only "accuse" seems to be workable here.
    – RDBury
    Sep 2 at 3:32
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That's just the way we accuse someone of something in German using vorwerfen - we use an infinitive with zu.

Man wirft Ihnen vor, Herrn Müller ein Stinktier genannt zu haben.
You are being accused of having called Mr. Müller a skunk.

Man wirft Ihnen vor, ein Betrüger zu sein.
You are being accused of being a fraud.

Was auch immer man Ihnen vorwirft zu sein, wir vertrauen Ihnen.
Whatever you are accused of being, we trust you.

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  • Without zu sein:

    "Was immer man Ihnen vorwirft" is an act that you are said to have committed. (Whatever you are accused of)

    Wir können uns nicht erlauben, Geschäfte zu machen mit, was immer man Ihnen vorwirft.
    We cannot afford to do business with whatever you are accused of.

  • With zu sein:

    "Was immer man Ihnen vorwirft zu sein" is the type of person that you are accused to be. (Whatever you are accused to be)

    Wir können uns nicht erlauben, Geschäfte zu machen mit, was immer man Ihnen vorwirft zu sein.
    We cannot afford to do business with whatever you are accused to be.

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  • 2
    Your examples without "zu sein" don't make a lot of sense. You can't do business with an accusation, even if you want to.
    – tofro
    Sep 1 at 22:00

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