Viel or Viele in German: Which One to Use?

Viel and viele are 2 very commonly used words in German which can cause a few problems when you first start out learning.

The most obvious problem is that viel and viele look and sound very similar and can be easily mixed up. They also have similar meanings. However in order to speak German correctly, it’s important to know which word to use depending on the circumstances.

The Meaning of Viel

Let’s start off with viel. Viel translates into English as ‘much’ or ‘a lot’. It is used with singular nouns which are ‘uncountable’, meaning you wouldn’t put a number in front of them.

A few examples would be ‘time’, ‘fun’ and ‘traffic’. You can’t put a number in front of those nouns: “Have 1 fun!”, “There are 3 traffics” etc. It just doesn’t work. However we can put kein (no) in front of them:

  • Ich habe keine Zeit (I have no time)
  • Heute gibt es keinen Verkehr (Today there is no traffic)

Whenever we encounter words like this, we use viel to says there is ‘much’ or ‘a lot’ of them:

Heute habe ich viel Zeit.
Today I have a lot of time.
Viel Spaß!
Much fun! (Have fun!)
Es gibt so viel Verkehr.
There is so much traffic.
Wie viel Geld hast du?
How much money do you have?
Wie viel kostet es?
How much does it cost?

The Meaning of Viele

The very similar viele translates as ‘many’ in English. Viele is used with nouns which are countable, i.e we can put a number in front of them. This includes far more nouns: cats, cars, people, trees, friends, anything like that.

Basically, any nouns that can become a plural, will use viele:

Wie viele Katzen hast du?
How many cats do you have?
Es gibt viele Bäume im Wald.
The are many trees in the forest.
Ich habe so viele gute Ideen.
I have so many good ideas.

Did you notice that all the nouns in these examples are in their plural form? Also, viele could be replaced by a number in any of those examples:

  • Hast du 3 oder 4 Katzen? (Do you have 3 or 4 cats?)
  • Es gibt Tausende von Bäume im Wald. (There are thousands of trees in the forest)
  • Ich habe 10 gute Ideen. (I have 10 good ideas)
Takeaway:
A singular noun (uncountable) uses viel.
A plural noun (countable) uses viele.

So now you know the differences between viel and viele in German. Now it’s just a case of practicing using both words in different sentences. Viel Glück! (Much luck!)

6 Comments

  1. I have been confused by this for so long and it’s actually very simple. Like “less” versus “fewer” in English. Less is volume or uncountable. Fewer is number. SImple. And I can think of that with viel and viele now. Dank!

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