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There are times when both 五日 (5th day of the month) and 何時か (someday) could be used I think. Does this become a minor problem for Japanese when speaking (no kanji to guide), or do they speak in some way to avoid the possible confusion?

A sentence I thought of where either いつか could be possible:


Are they going to America on the 5th of the month, or are they expressing intent to go to America eventually in the future?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted
  • For your particular sentence, using 五日 adverbially without under the meaning 'fifth day of the month' is ungrammatical, so it is unambiguously 何時か. They are expressing intent to go to America eventually in the future. As Tsuyoshi Ito correctly points out below, there is still slight chance that it may be 五日 meaning 'for five days,' but this possibility is less likely because (i) [五]{いつ}[日]{か}[間]{かん} is more natural, and (ii) it would usually be written in kanji.

  • Generally, in written form, 何時か is usually written in hiragana, whereas 五日 is usually written in kanji, so you can usually tell.

  • Generally, in spoken form (in the standard dialect), 五日 has the pitch pattern いつか{LHH} (low-high-high), whereas 何時か has the pitch pattern いつか{HLL} (high-low-low), so they are unambiguous.

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Just like ひと月アメリカに行きます, 五日アメリカに行きます might be used for “I will go to US for five days.” But (as you know) this is still unusual because “for five days” is usually 五日間. – Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 22 '11 at 2:56
I am aware that 何時か is normally written in hiragana, but I wanted to use the kanji so that it was clear what I was contrasting with 五日. And, yes, it could easily be seen in written contexts that 五日 would be about "5 days", but my question was specifically about spoken contexts. You did indeed answer my question though, so thank you. I was unaware of the pitch differences as well as the phrase 五日間. (Could you add furigana for 五日間 by the way?) – atlantiza Dec 22 '11 at 3:09
@atlantiza I know. As I also wrote 何時か in kanji, there is no problem to write it in kanji here to disambiguate which one you are talking about. – user458 Dec 22 '11 at 3:19

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