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I asked a native speaker whether these phrases were equivalent in meaning and she said no (although agreeing that they both ultimately do "point" to the same concept). I asked if 年 here is basically a measure word and she said no. Is that right?

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年 is not measure word. It is noun.

那年夏天: the summer of that year

那个夏天: that summer

They both refer to a specific summer, but the first one leaves the context on the year, while the second one solely focuses on the summer. To demonstrate the difference with follow-up questions:

Conversation 1:

那年夏天特别热。It was extremely hot in the summer of that year.

哪一年?Which year?

北京奥运那一年。The year Olympics was held in Beijing.

Conversation 2:

那个夏天特别热。It was extremely hot in that summer.

哪个夏天?Which summer?

咱们一起去海边的那个夏天。The summer when you and I went to the seaside together.

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  • Interesting. In English, when you ask me which year, I can't sensibly answer by specifying a season. But when you ask me which season, I can answer by specifying the year. I could answer "The year we went to the seaside together" - would this be ok in Chinese as well? 咱们一起去海边的年? – Matt Chambers Nov 25 '14 at 23:07
  • Your answer brings up some other questions (sorry). Although you say it isn't a measure word, 年 is definitely getting some special treatment. Instead of 哪个年 or 哪年 you say 哪一年. Is your way the only idiomatic way? I'm also missing 的 in your first conversation; why isn't it there, i.e. 北京奥运的那一年?Finally, is the 那个 necessary? Can the answer instead be: 咱们一起去海边的夏天. – Matt Chambers Nov 25 '14 at 23:09
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    @MattChambers Completely orthogonal to your question, 年 doesn't need a measure word (e.g., 三年 and not 三个年). Also, 一 can always be put between 那 and an MW+object, (e.g., 那一年, 这一个夏天). Often, the 一 is not written but shows up in the pronunciation of 那 or 这 (as nei4 or zhei4). – Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 25 '14 at 23:27
  • Nice! I hadn't before seen an explanation of the alternative pronunciations of zhe and nei. But I would never say/write zhei4 shi4 or zhe4 yi1 shi4, right? – Matt Chambers Nov 25 '14 at 23:30
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    @MattChambers 那年夏天 = 那年的夏天 = 那一年的夏天, while 那个夏天 = 那一个夏天, attention, there isn't the omitted here. – xenophōn Sep 8 '17 at 11:29
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in 那年夏天 那年 is an attributive (定语)modifying or restricting the noun 夏天, it seems the phrase can be expanded to 那年的夏天, 那个夏天 is without this attributive,instead the noun 夏天 is preceded by the demonstrative pronoun 那,demonstrative pronouns 这,那 like numerals according to grammar rules require measure words,but in the case of 这 and 那 are often omitted,so although 那个年的夏天 seems correct it can be shortened to 那年(的)夏天,and although when used by itself to refer to a certain time it seems 个 should not be omitted from 那个夏天,when used attributively it often is as in 那夏天的台风

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Conversation 1: :记得13年吗? Remember '13? :记得,那年夏天特别热 I remember, that year's summer was particularly hot.

Conversation 2: :记得13年的夏天吗? Remember the summer of '13? :记得,那个夏天特别热 I remember, that summer was particularly hot.

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  • It's better to add some explanation in English. – user4072 Nov 26 '14 at 7:19

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