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I am confused with the grammar of the expression vielen Dank, because if Dank is a noun, and we have vielen, I would expect something like vielen Danken, or vielen Danke, or even vielen danke, for "many thanks" instead of "many thank".

Can you explain the logic or the rules for this?

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    Also, if it were plural, vielen would not have an n, as in "viele Grüße".
    – wimi
    Jan 26, 2023 at 7:34
  • You seem to be trying to analyse German in English terms. Does that seem like a good idea? Jan 27, 2023 at 20:47

2 Answers 2

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The German word Dank is a masculine singular noun. It is not possible to use it in a plural form because there is no plural form. This is in heavy contrast to the English word thanks which is a plural noun of which no singular form exists. You can't use this English word as a singular because in English there is no singular of "thanks".

The German word viel is an undefined numeral, and if you use it in accusative case as attribute of a masculine noun, it becomes vielen.

But why is it in accusative case?
The phrase »vielen Dank« is an ellipsis. This means it is an incomplete sentence that can be completed to get a full sentence. Here it is:

Haben Sie vielen Dank! (Sie-Form)
Habe vielen Dank! (Du-Form)
verbatim: "Have many thanks!"

It is a sentence in imperative mode. You use imperative mode for commands and for wishes. In imperative mode the verb is not at position 2 but on position 1 and the subject ist almost always a pronoun in 2nd person that will be omitted if you use Du-Form. What is left is an object (»vielen Dank«) which is in accusative case because the verb haben needs it object to be in this case.


Addendum

In the comments the user dlatikay pointed out another fact that fits well to this question:

When ever you say "thank you" in English, you say "Danke" in German. Both phrases (the English and the German) are also ellipses. Here are the full sentences:

I thank you.
Ich danke dir. Ich danke Ihnen.

So here, the word »danke« is not a noun but a verb. It is a form of »danken« (Engl.: to thank (for something)). The reason, why you find it written with uppercase first letter very often is just, that the ellipsis, although it consists of only one word, is still a sentence, and the first letter of a sentence must be written with an uppercase first letter, like in English.

Btw.: The German word »Dankeschön« which is an extra polite and friendly way to say »thank you« (like in English: »thank you very much«) is a contraction of the verb »danke« as just discussed and the adjective »schön« which is used in the full sentence as an adverbial attribute of the verb. In this context you can translate it as »nicely«, »politely«, »friendly« but also »carefully«, »thoroughly«.

Dankeschön = Ich danke dir schön. Ich danke Ihnen schön.
I thank you nicely.

In modern German this meaning of »schön« slowly becomes extinct and is already very rare, but when I was a child (I was born 1965), I heard it often from older people like my grandparents, born between 1900 and 1910.

But »Dankeschön« also exists as a noun. When used as a noun, it means a gift or present that you give someone to express your gratitude.

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    So, for analogy with English grammar, is it correct to say that "viel" is like English "much" (rather than many), and "Dank" is singular-only as English "water" (the substance)? So "vielen Dank" would be grammatically like "much water".
    – Ruslan
    Jan 26, 2023 at 9:05
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    @Ruslan unfortunately it's not easy to find a really fitting analogy with English, because German doesn't distinguish between many/much the same way English does and uses inflections of "viel" to express both. English has lost the inflectional case system so there isn't anything to compare this with.
    – blues
    Jan 26, 2023 at 11:02
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    when we say just "Danke", the e is not a plural either. This is also a fragment, in this case one of "Ich danke dir" or "Ich danke Ihnen", both 1 sg ac.
    – dlatikay
    Jan 26, 2023 at 12:57
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    I think the main confusion comes from "viel" meaning "much", and "viele" meaning "many". The similarity of the words combined with the complexity of German declination endings are predestined to create some despair when learning this language.
    – not2savvy
    Jan 26, 2023 at 13:41
  • As Mark Twain said: the awful German language needs reforming.
    – wra
    Jan 26, 2023 at 21:58
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That's simple: Dank has no plural in German (like a lot of similar nouns denoting a state of mind: Trotz, Gunst, Neid, Glück,... - and none of your examples for alternative expressions actually is a plural)

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    As noted in the question, this is confusing for English speakers because the equivalent expression uses a plural. Perhaps a better translation for Dank is "gratitude", which would explain the lack of a plural. The problem then is why vielen instead of viel as in Er hat viel Geld. In any case, this is a fixed expression and they often don't follow the usual rules of grammar.
    – RDBury
    Jan 26, 2023 at 1:58

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