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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か月{いっかげつ}に1センチぐらう伸{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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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... ;) –  Dave M G Nov 23 '11 at 15:36
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1 Answer

up vote 7 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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