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sehr adv.

Zum Beispiel:

Es schmeckt mir sehr.
Bill Gates ist sehr reich.

viel indef. pronoun, adj.

Zum Beispiel:

Das Kind hat viel gegessen.
Bill Gates hat viel Geld.

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3 Answers 3

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You answered the question yourself by indicating the function of the words. "Sehr" is an adverb and as such it modifies adjectives, verbs or other adverbs.

Das Haus ist sehr hoch.

Ich laufe sehr schnell.

Das missfällt mir sehr.

"Viel" is a pronoun and as such it stands in for persons or things.

Ich habe viel gegessen.

You could replace it with "Pizza" or "it" if you want to. "Viel" can also be an adjective that modifies or kind of "counts" nouns.

Jan hat viel Geld.

The two are never interchangeable. The confusion mainly comes from the fact that they can be both a translation for the English "a lot"

Jan has a lot of money.

Melanie likes that a lot.

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I found few examples, but I don't understand too much how they work :( Thanks for the answer –  Joe Jan 16 at 22:10
    
@emanuel: however, both can modify a verb and I haven't found a clear rule about when using which apart from the generic "viel is for quantity, sehr for intensity". With some verbs it's clear which one to use, but not so for many others. How do you know if a verb expresses one or the other? "ich arbeitete viel" or "ich arbeitete sehr"? "Ich bin viel gelaufen" oder "ich bin sehr gelaufen"? –  karoshi Jan 17 at 13:48
    
Jan has very much money -/> Jan hat sehr Geld; Melanie likes that very much --> Melanie mag das sehr; –  Vogel612 Jan 17 at 14:51
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@karoshi sehr as an adverb for verbs is very rare. It's only common for verbs meaning affection like mögen, lieben, hassen …. In the case of arbeiten, both sehr and viel are possible. Ich arbeite viel. means I work a lot.. Ich arbeite sehr. means I'm working intensively. with the details of this intenity unclear (which is why it's rarely used). In the case of laufen only viel is usually possible. Maybe, if you want to describe a certain point in a spectrum of movements from walking to running not characterized by velocity, you could use sehr laufen. –  Toscho Jan 17 at 16:22
    
@karoshi... I consider "Ich arbeite viel" as kind of similar to "Ich arbeite 2 Stunden" so viel is not modifying the verb here the way a verbal adverb would do. That you can see in Toscho's comment –  Emanuel Jan 17 at 18:24
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"Viel" is associated with number. You can count how much money Bill has, you can count (sort of) how much the child ate.

"Sehr" is an amplifier, like 'very' in English.

Compare:

"Ich habe heute viel gelernt." - I have learned much today.

"Ich habe heute sehr viel gelernt." - I have learned very much today.

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You're missing the point, that amplifying something describing numbers by using sehr makes sehr also associated to numbers. –  Toscho Jan 17 at 16:24
    
It's clear from the context that you could not use sehr on its own in this construction, because you would end up with I have learned very today. –  pdah Jan 19 at 10:16
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sehr = very, viel(e) = a lot / much /many

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viele means many, not viel! –  Thorsten Dittmar Jan 17 at 7:10
    
Depends: viel Reis, viele Schiffe. I've added the (e) to make it clearer. –  Robert Jan 17 at 13:28
    
That's the point. "viel=much" Reis and "viele=many" Schiffe. That's not clear from your answer. –  Em1 Jan 17 at 14:18
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