When I want ask someone When will you eat?, can I use 你吃什么时间 (ni3 chi1 shen2me shi2jian1)?

I used to see sentences using 时候 to ask for the time. What is the difference?

  • 3
    "ni3 chi1 shen2me shi2jian1" (你吃什么时间) is unintelligible. Use "你什么 时候/时间 去吃饭", both 时候 and 时间 are OK here. 时间 would sound more accurate for asking the exact time, to some extent -- like "what time will you eat" in English.
    – Stan
    Jul 15, 2014 at 6:19
  • I mean like you, wrong type.
    – Agoeng Liu
    Jul 15, 2014 at 7:08

3 Answers 3


Tuttle Learners


a period of time

时间不够, 我没做完那道练习。

Shíjiān bú gòu, wǒ méi zuòwán nà dào liànxí. As there

wasn't enough time, I did not finish that exercise.


Wǒ méiyǒu shíjiān xiě xìn.

I don't have time to write letters.


[compound: 时 time + 候 a certain point in time] NOUN a certain point in time, (the time) when


Fēijī shénme shíhou kāi? When will the plane depart?

他来的时候, 我正在打电话。

Tā lái de shíhou, wǒ zhèngzài dǎ diànhuà.

I was on the phone when he came.

时候 = time in general (what time does something happen, times up, duration of time).

什么时候 can even be translated directly as when in English.

时间 = THE time (like; what's THE time, THE time in Beijing is..., I didn't have THE time).

什么时间, on the other hand, is seldom used.

The sentence you gave up top, ni3 chi1 shen2me shi2jian1, is like writing "You eat what the time?"

What you want to say is something like: 你什么时候吃饭

  • nice answer !! I understand now..
    – Agoeng Liu
    Jul 15, 2014 at 7:08
  • This answer is clear and correct, indeed. But when you want to ask about some past event very formally or accurately, you'd better use 时间. E.g., 你(是)(在)什么时间吃的饭? This is especially suitable for interrogation.
    – xiaohuamao
    Jul 15, 2014 at 9:39

First, you can either use "ni3 shen2 me shi2 jian1 chi1" or "ni3 shen2 me shi2 hou4 chi1".

Second, "时候" and "时间" are both used to represent some time instant, and "时候" is used more often than "时间" when referring some time instant.

When you are referring to the quality of some time period, you would use "时间". For example, "ni3 chi1 duo2 chang2 shi2 jian1" means "How long do you eat?"

When you are referring to some long time period, especially some time period a long long time ago, you would use "时候". For example, "zai4 tang2 chao2 de shi2 hou4,..." means "in Tang dynasty, ...".

  • nice answer pomelo
    – Agoeng Liu
    Jul 15, 2014 at 7:07

你什么时候吃饭 (ni3 shen2 me shi2 hou4 chi1 fan4) - eat food

你什么时候回家 (ni3 shen2 me shi2 hou4 hui2 jia1) - go home

你什么时候 (ni3 shen2 me shi2 hou4) can be understood as: "to do what" -> at 什么时候 ("shen2 me shi2 hou4"), 你 ("ni3") do what

Generally, we use 时候 ("shi2 hou4") most of the time.

现在什么时间 (xian4 zai4 shen2 me shi2 jian1) - What's the time?

时间 ("shi2 jian1") is just used in the scenario when you want to know the exact time.

时间不够了 (shi2 jian1 bu2 gou4 le1) - the time is not enough

In my opinion, 时间 ("shi2 jian1") is used as noun at most time.

  • Can you please make your answer clearer?
    – Mou某
    Jul 15, 2014 at 11:30
  • It doesn't work when I insert the <br /> or two spaces ... The formatter doesn't work. chinese.stackexchange.com/editing-help#comment-formatting
    – Sunni Sun
    Jul 16, 2014 at 2:03
  • Test if the <br/> works. <br/>test this doesn't work, I don't know why. I want to format my comments...
    – Sunni Sun
    Jul 16, 2014 at 2:10
  • <br /> Workes with two space after every sentence. Now I have got the markdown skill. cool!
    – Sunni Sun
    Oct 24, 2014 at 8:18
  • 现在什么时间 does not sound correct to me: if I asked for the time, I would almost certainly say something like 现在几点钟 instead.
    – user5714
    Mar 22, 2016 at 23:10

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