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In English, if someone points to a book and says "What's that?", "A book" is a sufficient reply. In Chinese, if someone points to a book and says "这是什么?", can you say "书" or maybe "一本书"? What's the most natural and conversational response?

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Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you started. –  Tom Au Aug 18 '12 at 0:30
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4 Answers

I'm a native speaker. I will just say "书" in most cases. However, the way to answer depends on the situation. It's OK to say "书" between friends, relatives, and colleagues, etc. But when the question is from a senior or respected person, simple answer like "书" could make him/her feel that you are indifferent. In these situation, we will usually elaborate the answer a little bit, such as adding a very brief description about what sort of book it is.

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Most often, I would repeat 这是, so if you would ask me 这是什么? I would say 这是一本书. You can also say 一本书. But you can also just say 书.

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Okay. I usually do, too. But...are you a native speaker? I am trying to get the best "native" answer, so that matters, too. Thank you! –  Keili Rae Aug 16 '12 at 19:16
    
And could you/would you say "这是书"? –  Keili Rae Aug 16 '12 at 19:21
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Just 书 is enough. This is the most natural to answer such a question, and no need to say more.

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"natural way to answer suah a question" –  Chenhao Sep 12 '12 at 16:26
    
Actually there is a need to say more, but in your answer. Can you improve it? Read How to answer to help you. –  Alenanno Sep 12 '12 at 16:29
    
In fact, in daily conversations native speakers like me just say a noun to answer such a question. –  Chenhao Sep 12 '12 at 16:42
    
That's irrelevant, explain why it's the most natural way, add detail and context. As is your answer is rather poor. –  Alenanno Sep 12 '12 at 16:43
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That is an explanation you could have added to your answer. Please do it. When you're answering, one-liners are not that helpful. Always try to expand adding explanations, comparisons, anything that will help increase the quality of your answer. –  Alenanno Sep 12 '12 at 16:53
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I am a native speaker, so I can tell you that the most natural answer is "书". Of course, as you know, both are right. But in native Chinese, if you answer the question of "what", no matter only one object or more, you don't need to express numerals.

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