© 2014 The Authors. We consider the initial/boundary value problem for a diffusion equation involving multiple time-fractional derivatives on a bounded convex polyhedral domain. We analyze a space semidiscrete scheme based on the standard Galerkin finite element method using continuous piecewise linear functions. Nearly optimal error estimates for both cases of initial data and inhomogeneous term are derived, which cover both smooth and nonsmooth data. Further we develop a fully discrete scheme based on a finite difference discretization of the time-fractional derivatives, and discuss its stability and error estimate. Extensive numerical experiments for one- and two-dimensional problems confirm the theoretical convergence rates.