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I used a translator to translate this sentence but I am confused on why we have two um in the dependent clause. I understand um__zu is acting as a conjunction but why additional um? i.e.

um1 mich um2 sie zum kümmern

English original:

The doctor has recommended her bed rest and I have to stay with her to take care of her.

The translators output:

Der Arzt hat ihr Bettruhe empfohlen und ich muss bei ihr bleiben, um mich um sie zu kümmern.

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  • 6
    "um" has different usages in the language, and they can be combined freely. This is no different from a phrase like "I have to go to London", with two completely different usages of "to". Apr 19 at 6:46
  • With two [um]s bracketed: "The doctor has recommended her bed rest and I have to say with her [to] take care [of] her".
    – sehe
    Apr 19 at 12:48
  • 1
    @sehe Or to make it even more parallel and use the same preposition in English also: “I have to stay with her [to] attend [to] her”. Apr 19 at 16:40

4 Answers 4

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The verb sich kümmern has an optional prepositional object.

Er kümmert sich.

Er kümmert sich um alles.

If you wrap this in an um…zu adverbial clause, you end up with two um.

Er nahm ein paar Tage Urlaub, um sich um alles zu kümmern.

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"sich um jemanden kümmern" is a fixed expression, meaning "to take care of someone". This is just the ordinary preposition "um" and has nothing to do with the um-zu structure.

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The construction goes like this:

(comma) "um" + ⟨the verb's object(s)⟩ + "zu" + ⟨infinite form of the verb⟩.

Verbs can have no object at all, or one or some of these kinds of objects:

  • no object

    Ich schlafe.

  • accusative object

    Ich sehe den Mann.

  • dative object

    Du ähnelst meinem Bruder.

  • genitive object

    Wir gedenken der Toten.

  • prepositional object
    consists of a preposition and an inner object (which can be accusative or dative, depending on the preposition)

    Er achtet auf den Verkehr.
    Er berichtet über das Ereignis.
    Er stimmt für die Erhöhung.
    Er protestiert gegen die Erhöhung.
    Er schreibt an seinen Onkel.
    Er beginnt mit der Prozedur.
    Es besteht aus mehreren Teilen.
    Es fehlt an Munition.
    Er fragt nach dem Weg.
    Er bittet um einen Gefallen.

Any prepositional object consist of a preposition at the beginning and an inner object, that can be an accusative or a dative object (the case is depending on the preposition). The preposition um is one of these prepositions that can stand at the beginning of the verbs prepositional object.

Example:

The verb bitten needs a prepositional object, that must start with the preposition um:

Simon bittet um Aufschub.
Simon asks for a postponement.

If you use this verb in an um zu construction, it looks like this:

Simon ging zum Chef, um um Aufschub zu bitten.
Simon went to the boss to ask for a postponement.

The first um is the um from the um zu construction (um zu bitten = to ask). The second um is the preposition from the prepositional object (um Aufschub = for a postponement).

Many verbs need two (or even more) objects, and one of them can be a prepositional object:

Klaus bittet seinen Vater um einen Gefallen.
Klaus asks his father for a favor.

Here »seinen Vater« is an accusative object of the verb bitten and »um einen Gefallen« is a prepositional object of the same verb. Let's build an um zu construction with these parts:

Klaus fuhr nach Hause, um seinen Vater um einen Gefallen zu bitten.
Klaus drove home to ask his father for a favor.

A verb that has an accusative object is called a transitive verb. But German has also a class of verbs, where this accusative object mandatorily must be a reflexive pronoun. We call these verbs »reflexive verbs«. And among the reflexive verbs there are also some that in addition to the reflexive accusative object also can have a second object, which often must be a prepositional object:

Ich kümmere mich um meine Frau.
I take care of my wife.

Ich bleibe daheim, um mich um meine Frau zu kümmern.
I stay at home to take care of my wife.

Here the word »mich« is the singular 1st person version of the mandatory reflexive pronoun that must exist when the verb »kümmern« is used. It refers to the subject (»ich«) which indicates the caretaker. The part »um meine Frau« is the prepositional object, that indicates the person being cared for.

But you also can replace »meine Frau« by a personal pronoun if she was mentioned earlier:

Ich bleibe bei meiner Frau, um mich um sie zu kümmern.
I stay with my wife to take care of her.

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The grammatical pattern of the "um zu" sentence (Finalsatz) is the following:

[Subjekt] [Verb] [Objekt], um [X] zu [Verb].

Examples:

  • Er geht einkaufen, um zu kochen.
  • Sie machen Sport, um abzunehmen.
  • Die Frau liegt in der Sonne, um braun zu werden.
  • Er ist zu dick, um zu gehen.
  • Er ist zu arm, um einen Porsche zu kaufen.
  • Er hat nicht genug Farbe, um das ganze Haus gelb zu streichen.
  • Sie geht ins Krankenhaus, um ihre kranke Mutter zu besuchen.

What happens if the verb contains "um"?

Examples:

  • Er ist zu dick, um sich umzudrehen. (sich/jdn. umdrehen)
  • Jeder Tag ist ein guter Tag, um die Katze zu umarmen. (jdn. umarmen)
  • Er nimmt das Messer, um den Gegner umzubringen. (jdn. umbringen)

More potentially "ugly" but grammatically correct examples:

  • Wir treffen uns, um um den See zu laufen.
  • Sie dreht sich um, um ihrer Tochter die Kette um den Hals zu legen.
  • Er nimmt die Schere, um die Hose um 5 cm zu kürzen.
  • Sie rief ihre Freundin an, um um Entschuldigung zu bitten.
  • Er ruft ihm zu, um ihn dazu zu bringen, sich zu ihm umzudrehen.
  • Er gibt Eier dazu, um den Kuchen zuzubereiten.
  • Sie geht auf ihn zu, um auf ihn zuzukommen.

While grammatically correct, too many "ums" and/or "zus" in one sentence might not sound polished. That's the reason why you probably don't see/hear those "ugly" sentences often.


For those who wonder how to determine whether the "zu" appears inside a verb: It only appears inside "trennbare Verben". If you are able to pronounce words correctly, the difference is simple: If the stress is on the first syllable, the verb is trennbar, else it is not trennbar.

Two examples:

  • um-AR-men: nicht trennbar, also "zu umarmen"
  • UM-brin-gen: trennbar, also "umzubringen"

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