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In my JLPT workbook, it gives these examples to explain the difference between 延{の}びる and 伸{の}びる:

髪{かみ}は[1]{いっ}か[月]{げつ}に1センチぐらい伸{の}びる。

会議{かいぎ}はいつも30分{ぷん}ぐらい延{の}びる。

They both mean "stretch", more or less, so I assumed the difference was that 延{の}びる was more about time and space, and 伸{の}びる is more about distance and length.

However, take a look at this practise question:

1972年、東京{とうきょう}から大阪{おおさか}までだった東海道{とうかいどう}新幹線{しんかんせん}は岡山{おかやま}まで____________。

A 長引{ながひ}いた  B 広{ひろ}がった  C 延{の}びた  D 伸{の}びた

I chose, D, because it was about length.

According to the book, though, the answer is C.

How can I make sense of this answer in light of the example sentences?

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3  
Not relevant in the least bit but my reputation is 3456 and yours is 5678 at this instant. Thought it was something interesting to share =D. – Flaw Nov 23 '11 at 12:55
    
It's potentially the start of a Dan Brown novel... ;) – Questioner Nov 23 '11 at 15:36
    
There are some のびる which can have both 伸びる and 延びる. 伸びる is almost for physical stuff and the other is for space and time. An exception I know is [金]{きん}を[叩]{たた}いて[延]{の}ばす, which means Beat out gold. Also: dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/172188/meaning/m0u – Takumi Sueda Nov 29 '15 at 6:51
    
Does it mean 伸 is preferred when the topic is animate? – Derpius Nov 29 '15 at 6:54
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Using the Microsoft IME as a guide, generally 延びる seems to be used as "extend" and 伸びる as "grow":

延びる:

  • Extend a conversation
  • Extend a schedule
  • Extend life span
  • Extend a subway into the suburbs

伸びる:

  • Plants/people grow
  • Expand investigations (in relation to the law etc)
  • Grow one's knowledge
  • Grow a market/earnings
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