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I understand that both translate as meaning 'a large quantity' of something, but is there any practical difference between たくさん and いっぱい, and circumstances where you would or wouldn't use one over the other? Or is it similar to the difference between 'lots' and 'many' in English?

marked as duplicate by naruto, macraf, Blavius, broccoli forest, user3856370 Aug 9 '16 at 20:29

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たくさん and いっぱい can mean "many" "a lot", and they can be used interchangeably in some cases (especially when used adverbially), e.g.:

  • たくさん勉強しました。
    いっぱい勉強しました。
    I studied a lot.
  • 私の家には本がたくさんあります。
    私の家には本がいっぱいあります。
    There're a lot of books in my house.

When used in this sense, いっぱい sounds more colloquial than たくさん.

And, 「たくさん + noun」(a lot of~~) sounds okay to me, e.g. 「たくさんの木/木々」 "a lot of trees" / 「たくさんの雪が降った。」 "We had a lot of snow.", but 「いっぱい + noun」 sounds a bit unnatural, e.g. ?「いっぱいの木/木々」 / ?「いっぱいの雪が降った。」. 「木がいっぱい…」「いっぱい木が…」「いっぱい雪が降った。」「雪がいっぱい降った。」 sound more natural. (You'd use 「いっぱい~」 like 「人いっぱいの部屋」 "a room full of people")

たくさん and いっぱい have other meanings, and cannot be used interchangeably in some cases, e.g.:

  • お腹がいっぱいです。(×お腹がたくさんです)
    I am full.
  • 風呂の水がいっぱいになった。(×風呂の水がたくさんになった)
    The bathtub is filled with water.
  • 店内は人でいっぱいです。(×店内は人でたくさんです)
    The store is full of people.
  • 千円もあればたくさんです。(≂じゅうぶんです)(×千円もあればいっぱいです)
    1,000 yen will do/suffice.
  • 君のバカ話はもうたくさんだ!(×もういっぱいだ)
    I've had enough of / I'm fed up with your silly chatter.
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Both "たくさん/ 沢山" and "いっぱい/ 一杯" mean "a lot (plenty) of" and "many," and used commonly. But to me, "いっぱい/一杯" sounds more colloqual and familiar with than "たくさん/沢山," though the latter isn't a big word at all.

For instance, I say "京都は見所が一杯ある "現場は報道記者がいっぱいいた" in conversation. But I would write "京都は見どころが沢山ある,""現場は報道記者が沢山詰めかけていた" to describe the same thing - "There are lot of places worth visiting in Kyoto" and "There were a lot of reporters on the site (of crime)" in writing.

"いっぱい" also means "to the full," or "to the limit" like "精一杯頑張ります - I'll make my best (full effort)," "落ち葉が道路一杯に散乱している - The dead leaves spread all over the pavement."

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