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Some questions about the *Ersatzinfinitiv* and word order

German Language Asked by Deep_Television on December 7, 2020

linguist here. I would like a native speaker’s input on some subtle details about the distribution of the Ersatzinfinitiv in German. In particular, I am interested in the sequence haben + Participle + V when Participle requires that V be an infinitive: the Ersatzinfinitiv rule says that in such a case Participle should be changed to an infinitive. My research material suggests this is not actually a hard and fast rule in that both sentences in (1) are in principle acceptable, i.e. infinitival and participial forms are not always mutually exclusive.

(1a) Wir haben ihn singen hören ✔
(1b) Wir haben ihn singen gehört ✔ (dispreferred by some speakers)

Is this also true if we front haben?

(1c) Haben wir ihn singen hören?
(1d) Haben wir ihn singen gehört?

Does any of the two degrade when we substitute the object pronoun with a full noun phrase either in the Vorfeld or Mittelfeld?

(2a) Wir haben die Musikerin singen hören
(2b) Wir haben die Musikerin singen gehört
(2c) Die Musikerin haben wir (ja) singen hören
(2d) Die Musikerin haben wir (ja) singen gehört

What about if we add an object to singen? Is the (in)definiteness of the object relevant?

(3a) Wir haben die Musikerin eine Arie singen hören
(3b) Wir haben die Musikerin eine Arie singen gehört
(3a) Die Musikerin haben wir (ja) eine Arie singen hören
(3b) Die Musikerin haben wir (ja) eine Arie singen gehört

Speakers’ judgements appear to change when the structures in (1) are embedded:

(4a) … dass wir ihn (ein Lied) haben singen hören ✔
(4b) … dass wir ihn (ein Lied) haben singen gehört ✘
(4c) … dass wir ihn (ein Lied) singen hören haben ✘
(4d) … dass wir ihn (ein Lied) singen gehört haben ✔

I also don’t know what to make of this:

(5a) Ich habe ihr die Kisten tragen helfen ✔ (dispreferred by some speakers)
(5b) Ich habe ihr die Kisten tragen geholfen ✔
(5c) … dass ich ihr die Kisten (zu) tragen geholfen habe ✔ (bad with helfen)
(5d) … dass ich ihr die Kisten habe tragen helfen ✔ (bad with geholfen)
(5e) … dass ich ihr die Kisten geholfen habe zu tragen ✔ (bad without zu)

One Answer

As how so often, I think there are regional differences. I am from Austria. Born 1965 in Graz (capital city of Styria, one of the 9 states of Austria), grown up there, moved 1997 to Vienna and from there 2016 to St. Pölten (capital city of Lower Austria).

  • 1a, 1b
    I've heard both versions. But in colloquial speech (which is strongly influenced by dialects that belong to the Bavarian language) you hear 1b only (In dialect: »Mia hom eam singan kheat«). I think there is no Ersatzinfinitiv in Bavarian and this is why it is less common in southern regions of German sprachraum.

  • 1c, 1d
    Only 1d. Even in standard German 1c is not used by anybody.

  • 2a, 2b
    Same answer as for 1a, 1b.

  • 2c, 2d
    Same answer as for 1a, 1b.

  • 3
    The object doesn't change a lot.

  • 4
    Again: speakers with a strong dialect background never will use Ersatzinfinitiv. So, for them it is always either 4b or 4d. (I think 4b is more common than 4d.) Those, who are used to speak Standard German all day long will prefer 4a and 4d.

  • 5a, 5b
    Only 5b. 5a sounds wrong to me.

  • 5c
    The "zu" in this sentence is wrong. Without "zu" this is a correct and usual sentence.

  • 5d
    I disagree. It should be "... dass ich ihr die Kisten habe tragen geholfen"

  • 5e
    Correct and usual.

Answered by Hubert Schölnast on December 7, 2020

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