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There seem to be two words for each season. Each pair has the first character in common but for the second character one will have 季 (jì) and the other will have 冬天 (tiān).

For example "winter" is:

  • 冬季 (dōngjì)
  • 冬天 (dōngtiān)

What is the difference between the two? I can see the first uses the character for "season" and the second uses the character for "heaven", but this doesn't seem to tell me anything useful.

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No idea why this got down voted, let me zero that out. As always can down voters please indicate in comments what is wrong with a question as to me it aligns with the guidelines in the helpcenter –  50-3 Feb 16 at 8:24
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i believe that both mean "winter" not spring –  C_Intermediate_Learner Feb 16 at 8:26
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@hippietrail From what I have learnt, they have the same meaning (winter), but when used in sentences, people most oftenly say 冬天 –  C_Intermediate_Learner Feb 16 at 8:31
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Literally, 冬季 = winter (season), and 冬天 = winter days. There's also a more elegant phrase 冬日 for 冬天. To me, 冬季 sounds "scientific", it expresses the season time accurately. 冬日 is literary so I don't often hear it in spoken language. And 冬天 is so common that I can hear/see it everywhere. –  Stan Feb 16 at 8:42
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@amateur, No, like the sample in congusbongus's, you have to use 冬季奥运会 (winter olympics),no other choice. –  user3945 Feb 18 at 1:57

5 Answers 5

冬季 is more formal than 冬天. When used to refer to the season itself, the former is more commonly found in literature, the latter in vernacular.

However, when used to refer to something of that season, i.e. in a noun phrase, the 冬季 form is almost always used. For examples, "winter fashion" is 冬季服装, "Winter Olympics" is 冬季奥运会*. You would never use 冬天 for these, unless rephrasing them in a very informal way e.g. 冬天穿的衣服.

*: if they don't get abbreviated awaylike 冬装 or 冬奥, that is.

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冬季, more like talking about the season it self, for example "冬季是睡觉的好季节。", "今年冬季假期有 2 个星期"

冬天, commonly used; refer to the time in Winter, such as "今年冬天,我将去北京旅游。"

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Yes, 天 means heaven sometimes, but 天 can also mean weather. Most of times, they are both exchangeable.

冬天真冷-冬季真冷

相约在冬天-相约在冬季

今年冬天不下雪-今年冬季不下雪

Maybe a native Chinese speaker will find some of the sentences are kind of weird, but people will understand your phrases none less.

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冬季 (and other season names containing 季) is a formal term, used mainly in writing (书面语). 冬天 is a frequently used term. In practice, I guess it should be OK if you recognise both, and use the latter.

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季 = Season 冬 = Winter, Cool ...

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