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In my current project I want to translate the phrase "a large number of tents are set up." This is part of the text of a video game, specifically the narration. But looking at dict.cc, I see numerous ways to say "number of [something]":

  • Anzahl von [noun]
  • Anzahl an [noun]
  • Anzahl der [noun]
  • Zahl der [noun]
  • [noun]zahl
  • Reihe von [noun]

I do not know which to use as I am not sure how these differ, if at all.

10 Answers 10

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There's a very easy and natural way of using Anzahl that you didn't mention:

  • eine Anzahl [noun]

You just use Anzahl and then, directly following, the noun in nominative or genitive case. It can be used just like a measurement unit, e.g. "ein Kilo Erbsen" or "drei Paletten Radios".

Eine große Anzahl Zelte wird aufgebaut.
Die Jugendlichen schliefen in einer großen Anzahl Zelte, die direkt hinter dem Strand aufgestellt worden waren.

Comments on the options that were mentioned in the question:

  • Anzahl von [noun]

It's not wrong, but I would avoid this and use:

  • Anzahl an [noun]

This is the preposition to use if you want to use a preposition for some reason.

  • Anzahl der [noun]

You use this if you want to refer to a definite set of [noun] with a definite article, like in:

Die Anzahl der Fahrraddiebstähle, bei denen kein Täter ermittelt werden kann, steigt seit Jahren.

  • Zahl der [noun]

equivalent to Anzahl, there's no real difference. The use without article or prepositions (eine Zahl Zelte) is uncommon with "Zahl" though.

  • [noun]zahl

Yes, you can create that or use it if you know that it is already in use, but you would normally only create that if you really want it to be a term that's going to be used at least a few times. For example, if you write a study comparing scout summer camps, you might want to refer to their "Zeltzahl" in your statistics.

  • Reihe von [noun]

This is derived from the meaning "a row of ..." and it doesn't talk about a number at all, it's basically synonymous to "some". You can also just use this with a noun in nominative: "eine Reihe Zelte".

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  • The comparison to a number of measurement is misleading since after numbers of measurement the measured thing stands in the grammatical singular, after große Anzahl the genitive plural is required. Aug 22, 2023 at 15:03
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    @SirCornflakes Both statements are wrong. 1) From Duden - Richtiges und gutes Deutsch, 6. Aufl.: "Nach Anzahl kann das Gezählte im Genitiv oder als Apposition stehen: eine Anzahl Kinder; mit einer Anzahl Schafe. Eine Anzahl [steinreicher] Industrieller/ (auch möglich:) [steinreiche] Industrielle stimmte dagegen." 2) Whether the noun after a mesurement unit needs to be singular or plural depends on the noun (countable vs. uncountable): "ein Kilo Erbsen" oder "drei Paletten Radios". I did use only uncountable nouns as examples, which could be confusing, so I edited.
    – HalvarF
    Aug 22, 2023 at 16:29
  • I would add that "eine ganze Reihe von Vorfällen" can be used to describe a number of events. Or "eine Reihe unterschiedlichster Firmen" to describe a number of things - but its usage is more nuanced than the others.
    – Falco
    Aug 22, 2023 at 17:01
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None of your given translations has a counterpart for large.

The simplest variant would of course be viele [noun], e. g. viele Zelte.

Note, that eine Reihe von corresponds to a few or a couple of, so the number is below large.

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  • "eine Reihe" is especially used in cases where a few are already an unusual high number. More like "several". "Er hatte eine ganze Reihe guter Ideen" colloquially implies a larger than average number of good ideas.
    – Falco
    Aug 22, 2023 at 17:04
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I think the most natural translation for

A large number of tents are set up.

is

Zahlreiche Zelte werden aufgebaut.

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    I'm not a native English speaker, but doesn't "to be set up" mean that the tents are already there, i.e., building them has already finished? If that is indeed the case, "... wurden aufgebaut" might be more appropriate.
    – Heinzi
    Aug 20, 2023 at 20:04
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    @Heinzi: Ich weiß nur, dass ich die gleiche Meinung wie der Google-Übersetzer habe.
    – Pollitzer
    Aug 21, 2023 at 11:54
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    As a non-native English speaker but someone in IT that regularly sets up things, I would agree with the answer. Cambridge Dictionary seems to agree: "to prepare something for use, especially by putting the different parts of it together" (dictionary.cambridge.org/de/worterbuch/englisch/set-up)
    – YetiCGN
    Aug 21, 2023 at 12:27
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    Yeah if you mean "... werden aufgebaut" then you could put "... are being set up". Aug 22, 2023 at 8:09
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    Do you think "Eine Menge von Zelten" works okay as well? Aug 22, 2023 at 8:11
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It sounds eloquent to say:

  • eine Vielzahl von [noun]

Eine Vielzahl von Zelten wurde aufgestellt. In my mind, this evokes the image of a site with many different tents, like a campground. If the tents all look the same, like at a base camp, I would rather say: Eine große Anzahl von Zelten wurde aufgestellt.

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4

A large number of tents are set up there.

For quantifyable numbers, use Zahl, not Anzahl:

Eine große Zahl Zelte steht dort.

I prefer that one. Another option is:

Eine große Zahl von Zelten steht dort.

Anzahl on the other hand is outright indefinite.

Eine Anzahl Zelte steht dort.

A number of tents are set up there.

Anzahl means we don't even attempt to count them and that usually because it's a small number and someone could easily double it by counting again and find those hidden behind others.

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    "[...] Zelte sind dort aufgestellt" is fine. Examples: "Zwei große Zelte sind dort aufgestellt", "Etliche Zelte sind dort aufgestellt". You can find many other examples on the web. The "n" in your "Eine große Zahl Zelten sind dort aufgestellt" is wrong though, "Zelte" is correct. And I feel "Viele Zelte sind dort aufgestellt" is more idiomatic, "eine große Zahl" feels a bit stilted in this case. Aug 20, 2023 at 21:04
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    Both are okay. German is a bit wonky with singular terms for multiple objects.
    – Janka
    Aug 21, 2023 at 11:52
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    I'm not sure that Anzahl means we dont even attempt to count. Eine kleine/große/stattliche/enorme etc. Anzahl sounds perfectly fine to me. Duden even has the example die Anzahl der Teilnehmer war nicht ausreichend which seems to actually require counting. Aug 21, 2023 at 14:31
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    Eine große Zahl? That sounds wonky. I think Eine große Anzahl sounds much more natural. Aug 21, 2023 at 22:18
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    @ToivoSäwén: Now that I think about it, I'd agree that "ist" is technically correct, since it refers to the singular "Zahl". But as Janka said, the rules seem to be a bit relaxed in such cases. See e.g. german.stackexchange.com/questions/23120/… Aug 22, 2023 at 11:10
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If you know the approximate number, you could also use "Dutzende", "Hunderte", "Tausende", which would sound very natural to a German.

Hunderte Soldaten errichteten Dutzende Zelte auf der Wiese, begleitet von Tausenden Einwohnern, die sich das Spektakel nicht entgehen lassen wollten.

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I'm not German so I can't say with certainty, but I think I have heard the phrase "jede Menge" many times to indicate a large amount of something. So like

Jede Menge Zelte sind aufgebaut

I think it's a very informal way of saying it, but maybe a native German here can confirm if it sounds natural.

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    While jede Menge it is very idiomatic I feel that it does not match the somewhat formal expression "large number" because, as you say, it is rather casual. Aug 21, 2023 at 14:43
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"Eine Unmenge von Zelten" would imply a very large number. Strictly speaking, "Unmenge" is a negation of "Menge", and "eine Menge von Zelten" would mean "a lot of tents" in the usual meaning, and "a set of tents" in the mathematical meaning.

The implication of "Unmenge" is that you would not be able to count or specify it due to its size, so it is quite stronger than the comparatively lacklustre "eine Menge von Zelten".

An adjective you could employ in a similar meaning would be "unzählige Zelte" or also "unzählbare". Again, this means too large to count: if there are other reasons for an entity being not countable, you'd use "nicht zählbare" instead. Here the negations "un-" and "nicht" carry quite different connotations.

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    This seems to me more as a comment to a different answer, not an answer in itself. The question did not mention "Unmenge" or "Zelte". Auch bestreite ich, dass man eine Unmenge nicht zählen kann. Gerade Zelte haben sich oft als abzählbar erwiesen. Und im direkten Zusammenhang, wenn jmd. sagt: "Eine Menge an Wassereis und eine Unmenge als MIlcheis." - dann würde es für wahrscheinlich halten, dass damit ausgedrückt werden soll, es habe mehr Milcheis als Wassereis gegeben. Ansonsten sehe ich die Implikation nicht als gegeben. Aug 21, 2023 at 20:13
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While it seems more natural to simply say zahlreiche/viele Zelte, the same is true in English: These adjectives have direct equivalents in "numerous/many", and simply saying "many tents" is a simpler and perhaps a bit less formal.

For example, I'd expect a police report about a crowd use "large number of participants", and in German "große Anzahl von Teilnehmern" instead of simply saying "many" resp. "viele".

Therefore, in order to preserve the somewhat elaborate style, I'd go with the direct translation of eine große Zahl/Anzahl von Zelten. In my opinion both word choices are equally good, and the semantic difference is minimal to nonexistent.

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I want to add a little bit of detail, in the construction

Eine große Anzahl [noun]

the noun is formally in the genitive plural. this can be easily seen when you add an adjective to the noun as in

Eine große Anzahl junger Menschen

It is also visible when the noun is a nominalised adjective or participle:

Eine große Anzahl Delegierter

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