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As part of my efforts to improve my Chinese, I read various books. I just started one. In the first sentences, the author uses 年頭 instead of 時期。I searched the dictionary and found various meanings:

  • start of the year
  • period
  • epoch
  • days
  • year's harvest

Do I understand correctly, that here it means period?

This is the first of the periods I spent in France for advanced studies.

Does it differ from other "periods", such as 時間,時期?

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  • The answers are perfect. But I want to say that the dictionary you searched was very lousy! – Sheldon Sep 14 '16 at 11:00
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  • When 「年頭」 means "start of the year" 「頭」 means " start of / beginning of "
  • When 「年頭」 means period, epoch or days, 「頭」 means " unit of "

  • The word 「年」 doesn't take classifier because 「年」itself can function as a classifier or measuring word, we say 「一年」,but not 「一個年」, the same way we say 「一英里」(one mile), but not 「一個英里」(one a mile)

  • The word 「年頭」 is a countable noun that must take a classifier when counting, we say 「一個年頭」 but not 「一年頭」

Both 「我到法國的第一年 」and 「我到法國的第一個年頭」mean " the first year I was in France" but 「我到法國的第一年」 empathize 年 as a length of time, while 「我到法國的第一個年頭」 empathize number of year(s) that is being counted.

「我坐了十年監」 (I spent ten years in prison ) that is a long time

「我坐了十個年頭的監」(I spent ten years in prison) that is a lot of years

  • 「determiner +年頭」= determiner + period / determiner + days

Example :

「日治那些年頭.」 "The period when Japanese were occupying."

「二次大戰那些年頭.」 "Those days in WWII."

這年頭求職不易」"These days, finding job is hard."

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年头 just means year in this sentence。

I think this online dictionary will help you.

http://www.zdic.net/c/4/4/8606.htm

◎ 年头,年头儿 niántóu,niántóur

(1) [year]∶年份

我到北京已经三个年头了。

(2) [years]∶时代;年月

这年头工人农民的生活好起来了。

(3) [harvest]∶年成;年景

今年又是丰收的好年头。

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Often this kind of expression (xx头) is frequently seen in literature works or in a vulgar tone, in my opinion, there is a simple way to find out it's meaning in the context:

  1. Modify 年头 with a definite ordinal number, e.g. 第1个年头,第2个年头,第10个,第n个年头,in such case, 年头 simply means year, the first year, the second year, etc.
  2. Modify 年头 with other determiners or quantifiers, such as:这(this)年头,那(that)年头,那些(those)年头,有一些(there have been some)年头了,for these cases it means an indefinite period of time, or years.

so the translations would be:

这年头:these years(pay attention that it's not 'this years' because it's talking about an indefinite period of time instead of a specific year, so you have to make it plural/unspecific in English.

那年头:those years

这些年头:equals to 这年头,both talk about unspecific period.

那些年头:equals to 那年头

有些年头了,有好些年头了:there have been some years that ...

Also you may encounter another similar expression "这日头,这些日头,那日头,那些日头,有些日头了", what you need to do is to replace "year" with "day":

这/那些日头:these/those days

我学中文有些日头了:I have been learning Chinese for many days.

As I know, besides these two usage, there isn't 这月头、这时头,这分头,这秒头,etc.

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