Little words are often tricky to use in German, and it’s easy to see why students struggle to distinguish between “sehr” and “viel” since both have a similar meaning. This post will explain the difference and help you use them correctly moving forward.
Die Verkäuferin war sehr nett.
(The sales assistant was very nice)
Ich freue mich sehr auf meinen Urlaub.
(I very much look forward to my holiday)
Das Essen hat mir sehr gut geschmeckt.
(The food was very tasty to me)
Viel translates as “a lot or much” when it’s used as an adverb, whereas it translates as “many” when it’s used as an adjective. Check out my article on the difference between viel and viele to learn more about this word and my post on why it's correct to say "vielen Dank" but "viel Spaß" and "viel Erfolg".
E.g. Er arbeitet viel.
(He works a lot)
Es macht viel Sport.
(He exercises a lot)
Viele Leute denken, dass Deutsch eine schwierige Sprache ist.
(Many people think that German is a difficult language)
To make matters worse, we can also combine sehr and viel to highlight the intensity of “viel”.
E.g. Er arbeitet sehr viel.
(He works too much)
Er macht sehr viel Sport)
(Same translation as above, but with emphasis on a lot of sport)
The good news is that “sehr” just emphasises the meaning of “viel”, which means that their use is consistent with the above explanation. Learn more about adjectives and their declensions in German, comparatives and superlatives, other confusing pairs of adjectives and adverbs such as am meisten vs. meistens, and the word order of adverbs in a German sentence.
On our German language blog, you will also find posts on the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in the present tense in German, the rules on the perfekt tense in German, on how to use nicht and kein in German, an explanation of German pronouns generally and mir vs. mich in particular, separable verbs in German, the difference between am meisten and meistens, and how modal verbs in German can help you speak with greater ease. You might also be interested in the difference between language levels from a1 to c2, how to master verbs with prepositions in German, a review of online German dictionaries, and my answer to the question if it is possible to learn German in one year. There, you will also find our top 5 tips on how to improve your German and on how to avoid the most common mistakes in the German language.
You might also be interested in my Ultimate Guide to Learning German. Check it out to learn how to learn German fast. Our German lessons and small-group intensive German courses can help you achieve your goals.