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I googled a bit on it and found different explanations. Some says it just depends on the region and dialect. But my text book explains that as a rule of thumb 几岁了 should be used for kids before 10 years old, and for other cases 多大了 is Ok. Could you please provide some more explanation on it?

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Your textbook is right. But usage might vary. 几 generally means few, the convention that its maximum is 10, that's why you can not ask someone looking older than 10 你几岁?

Of course you could ask a little boy or girl 你多大?, that's not wrong, but do not ask an adult 你几岁/您几岁?, this wouldn't be appropriate.

The only context when 几岁 could apply to adults is 50几岁 (fifty something of age) and, of course, 30几岁,40几岁 and so on. Here 几 only refers to the 'something', the unknown few years someone is older than 50, etc.

  • Thanks for the explanation. About 50 question that would look like 五十几岁, right? So it is safer just to use 多大, otherwise you might ask a kid 几岁 and end up in embarrassing situation receiving 13 as an answer.. – UVV May 14 '15 at 15:26
  • @UVV 50几岁 can be written as 五十几岁, of course. If you can not guess the age of a school child, not a problem, use 多大. When you ask someone for their age use 今年, e.g. 你今年多大? – Drunken Master May 14 '15 at 15:35
  • Thanks, got it. I just omitted that part from my question. Shouldn't it be 你今年多大了? – UVV May 14 '15 at 15:43
  • @UVV Both are OK. The 了 indicates that someone has already completed Xth year of age. – Drunken Master May 14 '15 at 16:25
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    Another way to ask the age for a school kid is to ask him which grade is he/she right now. Like "你今年几年级了?/ 你今年上几年级?". Since most kids won't "跳级", which means they won't skip some grades, thus you can get their age from their grades. – Yuting May 15 '15 at 0:42
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几, when used in declarative sentence, means several, as @DrunkenMaster pointed out, using it on quantities larger than 10 feels odd.

However, this rule, when used in questions, is very relaxed. So you will see the following questions all the time

  • 人有几颗牙齿? How many teeth do humans have
  • 美国有几个州? How many states are there in the US

And of course, 你几岁了 can be and is used all age. Asking 你几岁了 and getting 13 back is perfectly normal and accepted. Also asking 你多大了 and getting 5 back is also normal.

The important difference is 你几岁了 is less formal than 你多大了. So adults of same age/status can easily ask 你几岁了 to each other, even in their 80s, but you'll see it less used when asking people with higher status.

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I wouldn't agree with what your textbook claims to be the rule of thumb – although the rule technically applies, the common practice, as suggested in other answers, is that 几岁了 and 多大了 are applicable to all ages.

A few things to keep in mind when asking for age:

  • Beware that many adults are concerned with age. If you ask what's the minimum age that defines such "adults", I would say it varies. My take is that 25-year-old and above are generally concerned with age.

  • If you have to ask, do it with manners, especially in a formal setting. For elders (say 65 and above), a good question would be "请问您今年高寿?". For older people (say 40 to 64), a good question would be "请问您今年贵庚?". Otherwise, simply ask "您几岁了?" or "您多大了?".

  • Forget about the above rules IF you know the person you're asking is not conservative or traditional or is not nearly strict about courtesy.

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