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I'm currently struggling with differential usage of infinitive clauses in German. Here are two sentences:

Darf ich Sie bitten, meinen Computer einzuschalten?

Ich werde darauf warten, dass Sie meinen Computer einschalten.

I would like to know the underlying grammatical logic behind the usage of infinitive in the first example and lack thereof in the second example. Thanks in advance.

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The first example allows both.

Darf ich Sie bitten, dass Sie meinen Computer einschalten?

Darf ich Sie bitten, meinen Computer einzuschalten?

You can use the infinitive clause instead of a finite clause if the tense (aside from perfect), mode, voice are the same as in the outer clause, and if who drives the action of the infinitive clause can be inferred from the outer clause. Most times that means the subject has to be identical but in this example, by the magic of bitten, who turns on the computer can be deducted from the accusative object of the outer clause.

Ich werde darauf warten, dass Sie meinen Computer einschalten.

Here, the subject is different and warten does not give a hint on who turns on the computer. So you cannot use an infinitive clause.

In other cases, it's not about the grammatical subject but the semantic identity of the subject:

Es kommt darauf an, dass man zuhört.

Es kommt darauf an, zuzuhören.

Here, both subjects are "airy". The outer clause specifies es as in "It rains." and the dependent clause specifies man which is as undefined.


And please note that you can always apply a perfect tense to the infinitive clause because in addition to the plain infinitive, German also has an Infinitiv II:

Es kommt darauf an, dass man zugehört hat.

Es kommt darauf an, zugehört zu haben.

The actual tense relation is ruled by the outer clause:

Es kam darauf an, dass man zugehört hatte.

Es kam darauf an, zugehört zu haben.

This is super convenient:

Es wird darauf ankommen, dass man zugehört haben wird.

Es wird darauf ankommen, zugehört zu haben.

That's also the reason why you should always understand German tenses as pairs of simple tense and related perfect tense.

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    "Subject the same as outer clause" is imprecise. E.g. in "bitten" or "gestatten", the subject of the inner clause is the acc. object resp. dative object of the outer clause. Maybe change it to "the subject can be inferred from the outer clause" or something similar.
    – Dodezv
    Jun 17, 2023 at 16:52
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    Firs sentence has "Ich" as a subject in the outer and "Sie" as a subject in the inner. What am I missing? Aren't those two different subjects? Jun 17, 2023 at 18:42
  • Hmm. It's about who drives the action of the infinitive clause inside the outer clause. Most times this is identical with the grammatical subject but yes, in that example it's not. I edited my answer.
    – Janka
    Jun 17, 2023 at 21:57

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