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The preposition "zu" in German

"Self-knowledge is the first step to improvement"
"Self-knowledge is the first step towards improvement"

The meaning of "zu" in German

"To" is a word that can create a lot of confusion amongst people that are starting to learn German. It is used as a locative preposition, temporal preposition, causal preposition, adverb and conjunction with different meanings. In our opinion, "zu" is the most complicated German word.

"zu" as a locative preposition

In general, it indicates direction toward a place or person.

It is used for saying that one is going to a person (or their home):

Tino drives to to you
Tino is driving to your place

If this person is a professional:

He drives to the doctor
He’s driving to the doctor

It is used to say that one is going to some place, or on the way to that place:

he drives to the Airport
He’s going to the airport

we go to school
We are going to school

this place can be abstract:

he drives to job
He’s going to work

At home

The expression "at home" means to be "at home". Take note that this does not indicate movement as "to" usually does.

We are at home
We're at home

"zu" as a temporal preposition

As a temporal presposition, "zu" can be translated as "for" or "on" where a period of time is implicit. This can be understood better with some examples:

What can I to Cooking for Christmas?
What can I cook for Christmas?

What do you do to Halloween?
What are you doing on Halloween?

to the Mother's Day
on / for Mother’s Day

to New Year's Eve
on / for New Year’s

to Easter
on / for Easter

to Noon
at noon

"zu" as a causal preposition

"To" as a causal preposition can be translated as "to".

what can we to Avoid mistakes?
What can we do to avoid mistakes?

"zu" as an adverb (too much)

"zu" is used very often with the meaning "too much".

It is to cold
It's too cold

He drives to fast
He’s driving too fast

"zu" as an adverb (closed)

"zu" is used in colloquial German with the meaning of closed

The window is to
The window is closed


from time to time
once in a while

"to" + infinitive

We are used to modal verbs needing another verb in its infinitive form so that the sentence makes sense:

I want to dance
I want to dance

Something similar happens to many verbs whose meaning can be completed with a subordinate clause with an infinitive. This is called "Infinitive construction" in German.

I do not know what to is to say
I don’t know what to say

There is much to to do
There is too much to do

Pay attention to how the separable verbs work in this clause:

I'm starting my life to to change
I'm starting to change my life

"to" as a substitute for "that"

Sometimes, "that" can be substituted for "to" not repeat the subject. The construction with "zu" is more elegant:

He told me, that I should come again in 3 years

He told me, to come again in 3 years
He told me to come again in 3 years

"zu" before nominalized verbs

Often, verbs are nominalized in German. "Shop" means "to go shopping" as a verb. The nominalized version "Shopping" means the same thing but is now a noun which is why it is written with capital a letter and is neuter.

I go to the shop
I'm going shopping

I go to the eat
I'm going to eat

"without to" + infinitive

The structure "ohne ... zu" + INFINITIVE is the equivalent of "without + gerund" ("without knowing", for example) in English

I bought the car without think
I bought the car without thinking

I don't know how long you can without drink can survive
I don't know how long one can survive without drinking

I hurt you without it to want
I hurt you without meaning to

He is mostly without went to school for breakfast
He usually went to school without eating breakfast

"in order to"

In subordinate clauses of purpose where the subject of both clauses is the same, "in order to" is used. If it were different, then "in order to" would be used.

I'm learning German, around at a German company to work
I'm learning German to work in a German company

But if the subject changes with "in order to":

We are saving money so that my wife can buy a car

Purpose means that the action is carried out in the main clause ("Learning German") to achieve a result ("to work in a German company").

Separable verbs with the preposition "zu"

Next, we´ll show some separable verbs with the particle "zu":

  • listen ((to listen)
  • to close
  • to assign
  • to close, block

Verbs followed by the preposition "zu"

  • to add to
  • to invite to
  • to pray to
  • to invite to
  • belong to
  • to give congratulations to
  • to match to
  • to say to
  • try to (to try to)
  • to refuse to

"to" grammar

Declension of "to"

"To" does not change, just like all prepositions.

"to" takes dative

Words that follow it have to be decline in the dative (it always takes dative).

to the

"to the" is the contraction of "to" + "the".


"to" is the contraction of "to" + "the".


# 3 [Peter Colag] 2018-05-07 14:36
In the phrase "die Daten zu Temperatur", it seems that the use of the preposition "zu" does not correspond to any of the 12 meanings / uses mentioned above. Is that correct?