I'm a linguist who knows some things about German, but I don't actually know German. I'm trying to come up with a very particular kind of example sentence for a syntax course I'm teaching. What I want is a sentence that has the following properties:

  1. It should have a subordinate clause.
  2. The subordinate clause should have a verb that takes an infinitival clause complement.
  3. The infinitival clause complement should contain a passive main verb.

Here's what I've been able to come up with on my own, but I have no idea whether this is grammatical or not:

  • Hans glaubt, dass Wilhelm das Auto beschädigt sein will.

The intended meaning is "Hans believes that Wilhelm wants the car to be damaged."

Is that sentence grammatical? It's okay if it's odd or awkward, as long as it's not right out. (It's even possibly okay for me if it's possible but has a different meaning from what I put.)

If it is completely out, is there an alternative sentence that comes to mind that would fit what I'm looking for in the list above?

2 Answers 2


No, your example is not grammatical. A grammatical example would be

Hans glaubt, dass Wilhelm den Wagen beschädigt sehen will.

which introduces the verb sehen as a kind of passive auxiliary. Yep, that's possible, similar to English She wants to see him dead. for example. It's a feature in all Germanic languages I think. (I used der Wagen instead of das Auto so you can tell apart nominative from accusative.)

But that example does not meet your requirements as you wanted an infinitive clause in a regular passive voice. That one has werden as its auxiliary.

Hans glaubt, dass dem Wagen droht, vom Hagel beschädigt zu werden.

This verb drohen takes a passive voice infinitive clause as the threat and the person or thing which is threatened as a dative object.

  • Hoping I might ask you a follow-up, since your answer is very helpful! Is the first sentence you gave grammatical if sehen is replaced with erscheinen as a passive auxiliary? So, "Hans glaubt, dass Wilhelm den Wagen beschädigt erscheinen will." The intended meaning being "Hans believes that Wilhelm wants the car to appear damaged" (we might imagine Hans thinks Wilhelm is trying to commit some sort of insurance fraud).
    – Jigsaw
    Commented May 4 at 3:20
  • The German translation of your example is: "Hans glaubt, dass Wilhelm das Auto beschädigt aussehen lassen will" ("erscheinen" instead of "aussehen" sounds a bit clumsy to me). If you don't like the additional causative "lassen", you need a finite complement: "...möchte, dass das Auto beschädigt aussieht." -- German "erscheinen" is not a passive auxiliary but a copula, so "beschädigt erscheinen" involves "beschädigt" as an adjectival participle, not as an infinitive.
    – Alazon
    Commented May 4 at 8:58

The question requires an "infinitival clause complement" of the embedded verb. This means we have to pay attention to the distinction between two types of infinitival constructions, those with the status of a clause and those infinitives which are just part of a compound predicate. (Cf. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koh%C3%A4rente_Konstruktion ) A complication is that some verb allow either option. Examples of verbs that clearly select infinitival clauses, and which have a meaning that invites a passive complement, are:

  • Er bat darum, benachrichtigt zu werden.
  • Es schmeichelte ihm, so genannt zu werden.
  • Er leugnete, dafür bezahlt worden zu sein.

The verb drohen in Janka's answer allows two options. In the example given there

  • Dem Wagen drohte, vom Hagel beschädigt zu werden

there is indeed an infinitival clause, but we have a complex predicate instead of a clausal complement in:

  • ...weil der Wagen [beschädigt zu werden drohte]

Likewise, "dass er den Wagen beschädigt sehen wollte" is a complex predicate, not a clausal embedding. As a rule (of thumb), if an infinitival construction can follow an embedding clause-final verb, then the infinitive is clausal, while in a complex predicate construction the dependent infinitive (usually) has to precede the main predicate.

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