Here are the numbers of my google searh result with inverted commas:

  • 三五个:11,400,000
  • 三四个:33,800,000
  • 四五个:14,500,000
  • 五六个:12,600,000
  • 四六个:4,710,000

As can be observed, the frequency of "三四个" stands out among others and the frequency of "四六个" is significantly lower.

I understand that in China, saying "六四", especially online, can be risky. But what's wrong with "四六"?

  • hhha, 百八十个,千八百个 are other special cases – Toosky Hierot Oct 14 '19 at 17:27
  • Native here. Never thought about that. We do not say "四六个", and it's not about whether it's risky or not. Personally I feel it sound strange. – Hongying Feb 25 '20 at 12:09

1. About 三四个,四五个,五六个 and ballpark numbers

It's common to express ballpark quantities with adjacent numbers. 三四个 means about three or four. Same works for 四五个,五六个. Thus you can infer the use and meaning of 一两个,两三个,六七个,七八个,etc.

Example: 鸡汤里放多少个八角?五六个就够了。

It's less common to use such expression for numbers bigger than ten, but you certainly can! For number bigger than ten: 十一二个 or 十一十二个,十二三个,十三四个,etc.

Example: 聚会来了几个人?大概十五六个人吧。

The reason it's less common for numbers bigger than ten, is likely because people would prefer to ballpark it on the scale of tens, it's also less awkward-sounding.

To further explain, imagine about 27-30 people came to my party. If I try to say 大概二十七八个人吧。It's long and awkward-sounding, it's also confusing to just read it! Thus, people would just say 将近三十人吧。(Almost thirty people.)

2. About why 三五个 is more frequently used

I will explain my best guess. First of all, 三五 is a kind of a special combination just by itself, it's used in classical Chinese literature to describe date, days, age, decades, it's also used in expressions related to astronomy, fengshui. The only reason I could come up with why 三五个 is widely accepted is because of the idiom/chengyu 三五成群。It means a small group of people.

Example: 这辈子我就三五个挚友。

3. About why 四六个 is not an expression

As I explained earlier, Chinese use adjacent numbers to express ballpark. 四 and 六 are not adjacent. You can infer the same for 五七个,七九个,etc.

If you look closely at google search results, you would find out 四六个 is NOT used by itself. It's often separated by punctuation, like: “主题四:六个实战案例”,“四-六个月大的宝宝”,or used as part of a sentence “二四六个字押韵的诗词”.

  • For number bigger than ten, it usually puts like: 十三四岁,二十七八,etc. We can also say: 一百一二十岁, 一千两三百个,etc. – dan Oct 13 '19 at 14:22
  • Thank you! I am also wondering why 三四个 is more common than 四五个 or 五六个 whose frequency are very close. – Zuriel Oct 13 '19 at 17:41
  • 2
    @Zuriel They are all common. The statistic isn't very meaningful. What really matters is the pattern is common. – dan Oct 14 '19 at 0:59
  • @Zuriel That might be just because people use some numbers more than others. You might try to search 一两个, 两三个, 三四个, ... 八九个. I guess the frequency would decrease. – user4072 Oct 14 '19 at 1:05
  • My parents tell me that where they're from (Taiwan) 七八 is avoided, especially the phrase 七八毛, which can mean either "7 or 8 tenths of a yuan" or "pubic hair." An example of having to know all the dirty words so that you know not to say them. – Allen Han Oct 14 '19 at 1:49

if you also includes
一两个 and 两三个

you can see that the search results decrease as the number increases

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