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I'm confused about hao to know if 几 is asking a question (how many) or making a statement (a few). If I heard the following sentence (not read), is there a way to hear the difference?

从上海到东京坐飞机要几个小时
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  • 1
    Depending on context Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 6:29
  • As a native speaker, I've never thought of this seriously. Interesting. Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 5:17
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    The next time someone asks 你家有几口人?, I'm tempted to reply 对,我家有几口人。 [Tested it---it doesn't work.]
    – Becky 李蓓
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 5:24

3 Answers 3

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It depends on your tone and context.

If the statement itself does not have any prior or future statements, then it would likely be a question. Here are the possible context:

从上海到东京坐飞机要几个小时 ? In this case, you are asking a question, your tone would also be in an inquiring manner, to make it clear its a question

从上海到东京坐飞机要几个小时, 你总不能要我每天来回吧? In this case its a statement (It takes a couple hours from Shanghai to Tokyo, you can't expect me to travel between them everyday ?)

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Need to tell from the tone. If it sounds like there's a question mark at the end, then it's how many. If it sounds like telling you the truth, then it is a few.

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  • Since the tones themselves are same in both, I assume you mean the over all feeling of the sentence? Since I'm a beginner, could you describe what the difference might be? Or if you want to record yourself saying these two versions and post a link, that would be great
    – pixelearth
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 1:40
  • Think this way, when you speak english, when you say "isn't it?" you use different tones to express different meanings. For this case, when you meant to say "a few", an easier way to tell is people normally emphasize on "几个“ which means “好几个".. Also, you can tell from the context. Sometimes you should be able to guess whether they ask you a question or tell you a fact.
    – sylvia
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 3:40
  • @pixelearth My feeling is that when asking the question the stress is on 几, and when stating the truth the stress is on 个. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 10:08
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This is one of a few phenomena in Chinese that the meaning of a sentence depends not only on the letters but also the punctuation. You don't know the exact meaning of the sentence without a 。 or a ? after it.

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