Verbs such as "gehen" don't need "zu", for example we say "Ich gehe einkaufen" and NOT "Ich gehe zum einkaufen", correct?

If so, how come there is "zu" in this sentence?

Ich freue mich darauf, surfen zu gehen

Isn't it supposed to be:

Ich freue mich darauf, surfen gehen.

Do we only skip "zu" when used in a hauptsatz and always use "zu" in a nebensatz?

I am little confused in terms of available sentence structures in German, both with and without zu.

  • It's "Ski fahren" not "Ski gehen", but this does not change the logic behind the actual question.
    – mic
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 9:28
  • just changed it :) but my question still remains the same. thanks.
    – yucelm
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 9:32
  • @yucelm in SE it is custom to express your appreciation of answers (your own, or others, or also good questions from others) in an upvote (which translates into reputation for the people receiving it). This mechanism also helps to distninguish between good and bad answers by ranking answers based on votes, and even hiding answers with many downvotes. Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 11:18

2 Answers 2


Disclaimer: I'm a native German, so I'm having a hard time correctly naming different grammar constructs.

Your question covers a lot of very different constructs:

  • Ich gehe einkaufen.
  • Ich gehe zum Einkaufen.
  • Ich freue mich darauf, surfen zu gehen.

We could add some more, related ones:

  • Ich gehe, um einzukaufen.
  • Ich freue mich darauf, mit dir zu spielen.

"Ich gehe einkaufen." In this case, the purpose of going is shopping, and doesn't need "zu" in German.

"Ich gehe zum Einkaufen." ["Einkaufen" must be capitalized, as it is a noun here, also hinted by the contraction "zum" = "zu dem".] Here, "Einkaufen" denotes the place where I want to go, and "zu" is the preposition indicating this.

"Ich freue mich darauf, surfen zu gehen." "freuen" together with a verb ("gehen") needs "zu", like in "Ich freue mich darauf, mit dir zu spielen.". This "zu" has nothing to do with "gehen", it is demanded by "sich freuen". Please not that the combination of "surfen" and "gehen" itself does not need an (additional) "zu", so the clause is built from "surfen gehen" plus the "zu" demanded by the "sich freuen" construct. It is NOT "Ich freue mich darauf, zu surfen zu gehen."

"Ich gehe, um einzukaufen." This isn't very idiomatic, but anyway. This declares that the purpose of going is to do shopping, clearly denoted by "um zu". And to combine the separable verb "einkaufen" with "zu", it has to be inserted, becoming "einzukaufen".

  • Hello Ralf. Thanks for the answer. It clarified the confusion.
    – yucelm
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 10:54

Technically this is not a subordinate sentence (it misses the subject), but a "Infinitivgruppe" or "Erweiterter Infinitiv mit zu", an infinite verb clause. It is not a property of a particular verb, but a grammatical feature. As the name suggests, this construct requires the infitinitive with 'zu'. In the context of

Ich freue mich (etwas zu tun)

Ich freue mich, surfen zu gehen.

it can mean that basically any verb describing an action you can perform yourself goes in the initive form there with 'zu'.

An alternative construction with a 'real' subordinate clause would be

Ich freue mich darauf, dass wir surfen gehen.

This construction is somewhat less usual for use-cases like these.

  • Thank you so much for additional explanation.
    – yucelm
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 10:54

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