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I have learnt several words that can be used to talk about a person's age, namely 岁数, 年纪 and 年龄.

I have found phrases and example sentences such as the following:

  • 随便问别人的年龄是不礼貌的。
  • 你父亲多大年纪了?
  • 您多大岁数了?
  • 退休年龄
  • 上岁 (get on in years)

Except for expressions such as 退休年龄 and 上岁, can these three nouns be used interchangeably?

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  • users can draw conclusions from part of dictionary entries for each bkrs: 岁数 #7981 1) 年数。 2) 指人的年龄, most frequent 上岁数 :她上岁数了, syn 春秋, 年龄, 年纪, 年岁 年纪 #2923 年纪轻 young 上了年纪 old; advanced in years 她多大年纪了? How old is she?1) 纪年年数。 2) 年号。 3) 年龄。 4) 年代;时代 syn 年岁, 岁数, 春秋, 年龄*年龄: most frequent 上年纪 年龄 #1890 age:人或其他生物已经生存的年数。 超过规定年龄 over age 未达到规定年龄 under age 应征年龄 age for enlistment 他的智慧、学识超越他的年龄。 He is wise, learned beyond his years. 这份名单是按年龄顺序排列的。 The list is arranged in years. most frequent 年龄段 syn 年纪, 年岁, 岁数, 春秋
    – user6065
    Mar 24 '18 at 22:05
  • 年龄 is more formal compared with the other two words.
    – dan
    Mar 24 '18 at 23:57
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年龄 is more formal and literary term for 'age'

In all written forms, it is always 年龄 on the list, (never seen 年纪 on any form)

年龄 is described as 高 or 低. As in 高年龄/高龄; 低年龄/低龄

~

年纪 is more colloquial term for 'age'

年纪 is described as 老, 大, 轻 or 少. As in 年纪老, 年纪大, 年纪轻 and 年纪少

~

岁数 is a more specific term for 'age' (years old)

When you ask someone's 岁数, you expect a specific number in the answer

岁数 is described as 高, 低 or 大, 少

岁数 is also the more suitable term when describe animal's age

Example:

比赛的马匹是按马的岁数分组的 (use 年龄 or 年纪 humanize the horse too much)

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To really understand how it works, it's important to understand the difference between 龄/纪/数, as "年" & "岁" means the same in these words, referring to the "age".

龄: it is written as 齿 and 令, in ancient time, 齿 used to mean "age", while "令" stands for military service. Hence, in the very beginnng, 龄 meant the age to serve the military service. Later, it was also considered as the "legal age", or an age that is recognized by the hierarchy or orginisation. That is why there is only "法定年龄"/"(法定)退休年龄"/"(法定)入学年龄"/"党龄"(the age served for the Party)/"工龄"(the age served for the company) etc. Nowadays, the meaning has extended to "age" in general,so it is commenly used in daily conversations when asking about ages of a person; in these circumstances, "年龄" is the same as "岁数"/"年纪". ref: https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E9%BE%84

纪: In ancient China, 纪 is a method to count years, and it stands for 12 years. Hence, you can't refer that a children/a baby is "年纪轻轻", as it doesn't reach a 纪. (Of course, this boundary has been rather obscure these days) ref:http://www.zdic.net/z/21/js/7EAA.htm

数: This means "the count". It is rather neutral. Also, it can be used to describe the age of animals or plants or architectures. When it is referring to human ages, in most of the cases, it is used the same way as "年纪". e.g. "上了岁数" = "上了年纪". Although we hardly say "岁数轻", as the "count" can't be "light".

Please note these words are quite formal. When we talk about ages in casual communication, it is more common to use "岁" directly, such as "几岁了" "多少岁啊" instead of "多大岁数/年纪/年龄", which sounds like you are referring to someone more senior than you. To make it even more casual, we can simply ask "多大了".

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  • Interesting background information about 龄/纪/数. Thanks!
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 27 '18 at 16:56

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