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I came across this sentence today:

Sie besitzen nicht die Berechtigung, um in diesem Ordner einen Eintrag zu erstellen

from what I understand, 'um' means something like 'in order to'. But here 'in order to' does not fit. Then why do we need an 'um' here? Is it correct to say the following?

Sie besitzen nicht die Berechtigung, einen Eintrag in diesem Ordner zu erstellen

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  • 1
    I don't get why you think that 'in order to' is an inappropriate translation here or doesn't fit. Nov 18, 2023 at 5:41
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    @planetmaker The sentence 'you don't have the authorization in order to create an entry in this file' just sounds very strange. 'You don't have the authorization to create an entry in this file' sounds much better.
    – Dennis
    Nov 18, 2023 at 10:21
  • The "um + infinitiv group" (zu erstellen) here is equivalent to "für+noun", i.e. "Berechtigung für das Erstellen eines Eintrages". It is correct that the sentence is also clear without the "um". For my feeling, with "um" is a bit colloquial and without "um" is more elegant. Nov 18, 2023 at 10:43
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    @planetmaker, in English, "in order to" refers back to the verb/predicate. "You have authorization in order to create an entry" sounds like someone is explaining why you have authorization (i.e. we've given you authorization; we've done that with the purpose of enabling you to create an entry) rather than being a description of the authorization itself. The negative version "you don't have authorization in order to make an entry" is very weird/confusing, and if you took it very seriously, you might interpret it to mean that your lack of authorization is what enables you to create an entry.
    – cruthers
    Nov 18, 2023 at 19:46

3 Answers 3

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Um introduces adverbial clauses with a final meaning (specifying a purpose, to what end?).

Er sprach lauter, um gehört zu werden.

Without an introducing conjunction, infinitival clauses serve as subjects or objects (complements; Ergänzungen in German).

Sie versprach, sich um das Problem zu kümmern.

Note that sie versprach by itself would be incomplete, missing an object, whereas er sprach lauter is completely fine.

With the unfortunate effect of blurring this very clear distinction, old-fashioned or literary language sometimes allows infinitival clauses without an introducing conjunction to be used adverbially: Ich bin hier, euch zu bitten …

Some nouns are just like verbs (such as versprechen) in that they can combine with infinitival clauses as complements.

das Versprechen, sich um das Problem zu kümmern
die Energie, den Nachmittag zu überstehen
die Berechtigung, die Datei zu löschen

These nouns are relational in that a promise is a promise of something, energy is energy to do something, etc. They allow complement clauses and complement clauses don't have um. That is what makes

die Berechtigung, um die Datei zu löschen

sound strange. For the final clause to make sense one would have introduce some middle term such as nötig sein.

die Berechtigung (die nötig ist) um die Datei zu löschen

In fact, I find

die nötige Berechtigung, um die Datei zu löschen

completely acceptable; the notion of necessity introduced by nötig is compatible with a final clause (necessary for what purpose?).

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  • Yes, but there is no nötige in the original sentence. With nötige Berechtigung I would also find the um acceptable.
    – Olafant
    Nov 18, 2023 at 12:00
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Um … zu most times means in order to but in some contexts it means so as to. This is such a context.

You can write that example with or without um, as you could leave out a so as in English.

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  • Does it mean that 'Sie besitzen nicht die Berechtigung, in diesem Ordner einen Eintrag zu erstellen' is also correct?
    – Dennis
    Nov 18, 2023 at 0:33
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    I'm pretty sure "so as to" wouldn't work in English here: "You do not have permission to create an entry in this folder." There's no grammatical way to fit "so as to" (or "in order to") in this. You might say something like "You need the proper permissions in order to create an entry in this folder, and you don't have them." I'm thinking the German is kind of implying this without all those extra words, and that's where the "um" comes from. Either that or it's just one of those unexplainable mismatches between German and English.
    – RDBury
    Nov 18, 2023 at 7:38
  • @Dennis: yes, that would also be correct, but it would mean something different: Consider you need this right to be able to create directories and you need this right in order to create directories. One states a fact ("right=ability"), the other states a cause.
    – bakunin
    Nov 18, 2023 at 16:55
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You're absolutely right. The um sounds very strange for my native ears and should be left out.

I think people use it this way sometimes, because they think it's higher register and you could argue that it isn't totally wrong.

Sie benötigen Schreibrechte, um einen Eintrag in diesem Ordner zu erstellen.

but

Sie besitzen nicht die Berechtigung, einen Eintrag in diesem Ordner zu erstellen.

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  • This is completely wrong! "benötigen ... um" expresses a causal relationship, "besitzen" does not. Your second example just states a fact. Look up "Finalsatz" in the grammar book of your choice or read @DavidVogts (excellent) answer.
    – bakunin
    Nov 18, 2023 at 16:50
  • @bakunin Nothing of what you say contradicts my answer. Read David Vogts (excellent) answer again!
    – Olafant
    Nov 18, 2023 at 18:17
  • I did. "introduces adverbial clauses with a final meaning", "final" in the (latin-derived) meaning "towards a goal". This is why the "um zu" is the way to signify the Finalsatz as Finalsatz. Otherwise it would be another type of Relativsatz
    – bakunin
    Nov 18, 2023 at 21:03

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