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I just learnt that

hat sich scheiden lassen

is correct whereas

hat sich scheiden gelassen

is incorrect.

But at the same time

er hat mich in Ruhe gelassen

is correct but

er hat mich in Ruhe lassen

is incorrect.

I am really confused. Why is it that sometimes 'gelassen' is the correct one and sometimes 'lassen' is the correct one?

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  • 1
    Just as a side comment: "gelassen" exists also as an Adjektiv/Adverb, where it means "calm(-ly)": "er hörte gelassen zu" = "he listened calmly".
    – bakunin
    Mar 18 at 13:17

1 Answer 1

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In the first example, lassen is used as modal verb¹, in the second as full verb. Infinitive is used instead of the past participle for modal verbs at the end of the clause, this is called the Ersatzinfinitiv.

hat sich scheiden lassen

has lassen as modal verb, with "scheiden" as the full verb.

hat mich in Ruhe gelassen.

has lassen as full verb, in the phrase "in Ruhe lassen". lassen can also be used as full verb with the meaning of "not doing", as in

hat es gelassen.

as full verb. The same holds for other modal verbs, e.g.

hat sich scheiden können.

with können als modal verb, and

hat es nicht gekonnt.

with können als full verb.

¹(Edit): and some other verbs that directly take infinitive.

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  • thank you for your answer. Then I suppose the 'lassen' in 'ich ließ den Wagen in der Garage stehen' and 'Sie lässt alles liegen' are also modal verbs. What about the sentence 'Ich muss sie irgendwo liegen gelassen haben'? Do we have two modal verbs here?
    – Dennis
    Mar 17 at 19:25
  • I'm pretty sure this is an example of the Ersatzinfinitiv. This happens most often with modal verbs, but the article lists others: brauchen, heißen, lassen, sehen, hören, fühlen, helfen. To me the basic rule is that a participle following an infinitive at the end of a sentence becomes another infinitive. As rules go it seems kind of random, even by German standards, but a rule is a rule.
    – RDBury
    Mar 17 at 21:13
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    I'd also note that "lassen" is not normally classified as modal, but that depends on your definitions. I would call it "modal with accusative object", though sometimes it's just a transitive verb: Lass mich in Ruhe. There are many verbs which achieve the same functionality with a 'zu' clause, for example "zwingen".
    – RDBury
    Mar 17 at 21:32
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    I learned in school this "list of modal verbs": können, mögen, müssen, dürfen, wollen, sollen and lassen. @Dennis: yes, there can be more than one modal verbs in a sentence, e.g. this well-known aphorism by Karl Valentin: "Wollen hätten wir schon mögen, aber dürfen haben wir uns nicht getraut."
    – bakunin
    Mar 18 at 12:55
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    @Dennis - Your link didn't work on my browser, but this does. A "modal auxiliary" is what Bruce Duncan calls a modal verb. And yes, grammar is hard enough without everyone coming up with their own names for things, some having slightly different meanings, but here we are.
    – RDBury
    Mar 18 at 17:20

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