German 'Haben' + Double Infinitive

Overview

To conjugate modal verbs in the Perfekt, we still need the auxiliary “haben” (conjugated with the subject). The difference here is made by the two infinitives at the end of sentence. That is why we call this “double infinitive”. When the modal verb is associated with another verb in the sentence, we need to form a double infinitive, with the modal verb in the infinitive at the very end, preceded by the other verb in the infinitive.

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1. Modal Verbs in the Present tense. 

When using modal verbs in the present tense in German, we must remember that their conjugation pattern is irregular, and that they are typically used with another verb in the infinitive, which moves to the end of the sentence or clause. 

modal verbs present jpg

Examples:
Ich muss ihn heute anrufen. must call him today. 
Wir können morgen losfahren. We can depart tomorrow. 

2. Modal Verbs in the simple past (Pretäritum)

When forming sentences in the simple past (Pretäritum), we need to use the simple past of conjugation of the modal verb, but the second verb will stay in the infinitive and remains at the end of the sentence. 

modal verbs past jpg

Examples:
Ich musste ihn heute anrufen. I had to call him today. 
Wir konnten gestern losfahren. We were able to depart yesterday. 

3. Modal verbs in the present perfect (das Perfekt)

All modal verbs use “haben” to form the present perfect. They each have a participle, as they can be used without an accompanying infinitive, in which case they act like irregular strong verbs. 

modal participles jpg

Examples:
Ich habe das gedurftI was allowed (to do) that. 
Sie hat es gemusstShe had to (do it.)

When the modal verb is associated with another verb in the sentence, we need to form a double infinitive, with the modal verb in the infinitive at the very end, preceded by the other verb in the infinitive. 

Examples:
Ich habe ihn gestern anrufen müssenI have had to call him yesterday.
Wir haben es nicht wissen könnenWe could not have known that. 

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

Writing:
I can write simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. I can write personal letters describing experiences and impressions.
Spoken Production:
I can connect phrases in a simple way in order to describe experiences and events, my dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. I can narrate a story or relate the plot of a book or film and describe my reactions.
Spoken Interaction:
I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).
Reading:
I can understand texts that consist mainly of high frequency everyday or job-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand the main point of many radio or TV programs on current affairs or topics of personal or professional interest when the delivery is relatively slow and clear.