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measure words in 'what' questions

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In a short story I'm reading, I've come across this sentence:


The meaning is obvious, but what's the measure word doing there? Going by what I've learned, I'd say either





Is the measure word before 什么 colloquial, a regional thing, or is there some nuance that it adds?

  • Good question! 2

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Perhaps this could be viewed as a bit like 你想吃点儿什么菜 or 你买了些什么东西?

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I'm not too sure myself, tbh, but personally I'd interpret this sentence as being a lazy way to say 你在看一本什么样的书?Could be wrong though. Never seen a measure word used together with 什么 like this before.

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Very odd in contemporary spoken Mandarin. It is most likely literary --- though colloquial, it's only found in fictions or stylish proses --- or regional.*

And Beelzebro is right. A classifier (本) without a numeral (usually 一) is traditionally described as ellipsis.

eg. 桌上有(一)本书。



* it may also be used in old Mandarin (about which I don't know much). 

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Interesting question.


If someone were to ask me 这是(一)本什么书? I'm more likely to answer 这是一本XX书 . e.g. 这是一本技术书 / 这是一本故事书 / 这是一本文学书 .

OTOH if I'm asked 这是什么书? I'd probably answer 这是YY (the title of the book).


I don't think answering the other way is wrong though, just that the form of the question hints at the form of the answer desired.  e.g. If you ask me 那是什么书? and I only know that it is a technical book without knowing the exact title, I wouldn't hesitate to answer 那是一本技术书 .


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