A text I am studying has the sentence

Verboten war damals vieles.

I cannot understand why this correct. I would expect it to be

Verboten waren damals vieles.

because the subject is clearly plural since the sentence is talking about many things. In English this is like saying, "At the time many things was forbidden." Clearly incorrect.

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    I'd rather say it corresponds to "at the time much was(!) forbidden". – DonHolgo Nov 26 '19 at 8:39
  • When you say "jeder Deutsche" you are talking about around 80 Million people, depending on your definition of "Deutscher". Nevertheless the number of "jeder" is singular, in contrast to "alle (Deutschen)", which is plural, and I think, in English it works the same way. – Ralf Joerres Nov 26 '19 at 18:07

The simple answer is that, in German, vieles is singular. This can be seen (although perhaps not absolutely clearly) by the fact that it ends in the neuter singular ending: -es.

That might sound like a bit of a cop-out, but natural languages are organic, and don't tend to be perfectly logical.

But just to help clear things up a bit more, vieles is one of a group of similar words, such as alles, nichts, einiges and manches, all of which are singular and neuter by default (although they can be declined in the plural in specific cases, as explained in @Cacambo's answer).

In a way, vieles can be translated both as much or many, as can be seen here, but is singular in both cases:

Vieles ist noch unklar
Much is still unclear

Er hat mir vieles erzählt
He told me many things

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  • 3
    Actually one could translate "Er hat mir vieles erzählt" very well as a singular ("He told me much/a lot"). Your English translation has a literal German equivalent, after all. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Nov 26 '19 at 13:40
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Apparently my English is getting rusty, because I didn't think that was valid English. The sad thing is – English is my native language! (I did also just check with two friends, and you're totally right, haha) – Numeri says Reinstate Monica Nov 27 '19 at 0:03
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    If you had insisted that I'm wrong I would have believed you... it does sound a bit odd, one would expect a specification ("He told me much about the affair" or the like). But the German is also a bit odd without an addition ("... vieles, das mir neu war"). – Peter - Reinstate Monica Nov 27 '19 at 0:08

It is the neuter singular form of the pronoun "viel" ("much, many") (source). It is appropriate in this isolated sentence. Imagine as an English translation: "A lot was forbidden."

"Viele" would be a plural form. This also is grammatically correct but it is an adjective (more complicated than I as a native speaker thought, as it can be a weak and a strong form). Therefore, it is expected to refer to some noun. The noun may be explicit, as in:

Verboten waren damals viele alltägliche Handlungen.

Or it might be implied, as in:

Schusswaffen, Hiebwaffen, Stichwaffen – verboten waren damals viele.

The implied noun here is "Waffen".

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