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German Quantity Words

How to State Countable and Uncountable Quantities

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Quantity words (Zahlwörter) in German are words that describe the amount of something. As in English, you can express quantities as either countable or uncountable. Which quantity expression you use depends on the noun that follows it. A non-count noun such as die Butter will be preceded by an uncountable adjective or pronoun: ein bißchen Butter (a bit of butter). A count-noun such as die Personen can have either a countable or non-countable adjective or pronoun before it: die drei Personen; viele Personen.

Countable quantity words (Bestimmte Zahlwörter)

Countable quantity words are comprised of
  1. Cardinal numbers/ Kardinalzahlen (eins, zwei)
  2. Ordinal numbers/Ordinalzahlen (erster, zweiter)
  3. Fractional numbers/Bruchzahlen (viertel, halb)
  4. numerals with –lei/ Gattungszahlwörter (einerlei, zweierlei)
  5. numerals that indicate multiples/Multiplikativzahlen (einfach, zweifach)
  6. numerals that indicate repetition/Wiederholungszahlen(einmal, zweimal)

See more on Countable German Quantity Words.

Uncountable Quantity Words (Unbestimmte Zahlwörter)

Uncountable quantities are mostly used as adjectives and therefore declined as such. However viel and wenig follow a different pattern. It is a pattern with enough exceptions that it is best to learn them as you hear them. As a general rule though, keep the following in mind:
  • When in the singular without an article, viel and wenig are often not declined (Ich habe wenig Geduld - I have little patience.)

  • Viel and wenig are almost always declined in the genitive.

  • When in the plural, these pronouns are often declined (Ich habe viele Schmerzen - I have a lot of pain.

Just like German countable quantity words, the uncountable ones may also be formed into nouns. That will be the topic in a future article alongside with the rules for capitalization. For now, here is a list of uncountable quantities in German with sample sentences.

kein = none
Ich habe kein Geld. (I have no money.)

einige = some
Ich habe einige Fehler im Diktat gemacht. (I made a few errors in the spelling test.)

einzelne = individual
Du hast einzelne Kuchenstücke gekauft. (You bought individual cake portions.)

beide = both
Du hast beide Kinder zusammen getan? (You put both kids together?)

ein paar = a couple of
* Don't confuse with das Paar - the pair (meaning two)
Gib mir ein paar Schrauben bitte! (Give me a few screws please!)

manche = some
Manche Leute würden es anders machen. (Some people would do it differently.)

wenig = few
Es gibt sehr wenige Blumen auf dieser Wiese. (There are very few flowers in this meadow.

sonstige = further, other
Gibt es nicht sonstige Erklärungen? (Are there no other explanations?)

weitere = further
Hat er nicht weitere Informationen? (Does he not have further information?)

viel = a lot
Das würde mir viel helfen ( That would help me a lot.)

übrigen = the rest of
Die übrigen Wekzeuge sind im Schrank (The rest of the tools are in the closet.)

zahlreichen = numerous
Es gibt zahlreiche Arten von Obst. (There are numerous kinds of fruit.)

ganzen = whole
Beinahe den ganzen Kuchen hat er gegessen. (He ate almost the whole cake.)

gesamte = whole, entire
Das Gesamte hat 100 Euro gekostet. (All of it cost 100 Euros.)

zahllos = innumerable
Es gibt zahllose Wege ein Kind zu erziehen. (There are innumerable ways to raise up a child.)

alle = all
Ich habe alle Teller abgewaschen. I washed all the dishes.

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