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I know that they are both essentially polite and mean "Thanks a lot", "Many thanks" etc. but I've always wondered if there is a specific difference between the two.

Is there a specific context or situation where one is clearly more appropriate to use than the other? Or are both terms entirely interchangeable?

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I guess "Dankeschön" is less formal than "Vielen Dank" and it's widely used among friends. But I'm not a native German speaker! Apparently, it's a matter of taste, as it is about "thank you", "thanks", "thanks a lot" and "thank you very much". –  user508 Jan 28 '12 at 20:22
    
I agree with Gigili, "Vielen Dank" is a hunch more formal sounding. –  kontur Jan 29 '12 at 0:24
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You will also hear "Schönen Dank!" in some of the southern regions, which I guess came as a kind of a reverse combination of these two expressions. :-) –  Kevin Jan 29 '12 at 14:56
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Besides there exists Danke sehr –  Em1 Jan 29 '12 at 18:44
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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I cannot tell you anything about etymology and so forth, but my (native German) gut tells me this:

As an interjection in a conversation, I'd say both terms are virtually equivalent, at least it's hard to think of any situation where one would be appropriate while the other would not. Even if you encounter the counterpart of "Danke schön" — "Bitte schön" — it is still fine to use either.

However, if used with "für", it would sound odd not to use "... Dank":

  • Hab' [vielen] Dank für das nette Geschenk! <— okay
  • [Haben Sie] vielen Dank für die Blumen! <— okay and even idiomatic
  • Danke schön für das Eis! <— sounds weird (and wrong) to me, but I'm not sure if it is technically admissible

In written text, such as e-mails, I would rather not use "Danke schön" but always "Vielen Dank".

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"Danke für das Eis!" would be okay, but adding "schön" seems a bit more awkward. –  Kevin Jan 29 '12 at 7:14
    
@bitmask - Many thanks for your answer. I'm English and trying to learn German, so to hear this from a native German is good enough for me! FWIW, when I've been in Germany, I hear "Danke schön" used far more often than "Vielen Dank", but have heard "Vielen Dank" used occasionally. To my (admittedly non-native) ears, "Vielen Dank" sounds just that slight bit more formal which correlates with your suggested usage of "Vielen Dank" in written text. –  CraigTP Jan 29 '12 at 12:01
    
@CraigTP: Well, I can only speak for western Germany, perhaps there are differences in northern, southern or eastern regions. –  bitmask Jan 29 '12 at 12:55
    
@bitmask - Interesting. My most visited place in Germany is München, so it appears that southern Germany is similar to western Germany in this regard. –  CraigTP Jan 29 '12 at 20:11
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You got it all wrong. Vielen Dank means "Many Thanks". Danke schön Means "Thanks Nicely". Both are literal translations. I would say Danke schön is the more formal of the two, and Vielen dank is almost like saying "Thanks a Lot!"

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I've never heard "Thanks nicely" before. Where did you get that from? –  Baz Nov 25 '13 at 12:49
    
I believe user4799 is only intending to be helpful by pointing out that Vielen Dank "is" an adjective + noun while Danke schön "is" a verb + ~adverb ... hoping that this understanding answers the usage question. This is probably only marginally helpful, however. –  Mark D Nov 25 '13 at 22:17
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Both are more formal than a simple "Danke".

Danke schön

sounds almost old fashioned.

Vielen Dank

shows a little more thankfulness than "Danke".

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Vielen Dank kann man bei fast jeder Gelegenheit sagen, gerade auch bei eher formellen Anlässen. Danke schön ist weniger formell und bezieht sich eher nicht auf einen allgemeinen Dank, sondern wird persönlich ausgesprochen für etwas direkt Erlebtes.

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I would say "Vielen Dank" can be both speaking (semi-formal) and writing, whereas "Danke schön" is used only in speaking and more casual way.

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I asked some native German speakers about it, they answered:

(1): Das ist fast gleich

(2): Wenn jemand eine nette Rede hält, sage ich: vielen Dank,
Wenn jemand etwas Gutes für mich macht sage ich: danke schön
Aber das ist eigentlich alles gleich

(3): Als Deutscher ist beides für mich gleich

So there isn't a situation where one is more appropriate than the other, it's a matter of taste. Just like English, people don't say "thanks a lot" as much as "thanks" or "thank you" and "thank you" is more formal. I'd say "vielen Dank" is like "thanks a lot", as someone else said:

Für mich ist "vielen dank" noch höflicher als nur "danke schön"
Außerdem würde ich in einer offiziellen email nur "vielen dank" und nicht "danke schön" schreiben.

"Dankeschön" is less formal than "Vielen Dank" and is widely used among friends and families in Germany.

It depends on social class of the person somehow. As I found out, educated people distinguish between them but normal people do not.

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No, there is no difference in usability.


Nein, es gibt keinen Unterschied in der Verwendung.

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protected by Takkat Nov 25 '13 at 13:01

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