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If you say Was für einen Tee möchten Sie? (with article after für), why do you say

Was für Kleidung trägst du am Wochenende?

and not

Was für eine Kleidung trägst du am Wochenende?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Translation of "what"

In the example regarding clothes translating "what" with "was für (ein)" is uncommon, and its usage is more colloquial. We would ask:

Welche Kleidung trägst du am Wochenende?

or shorter (because in the context "tragen" implies clothes):

Was trägst du am Wochenende?

Usage of "was für" vs. "was für ein":

Whenever we talk of a group of several items (plural) we may colloquially use "was für":

Was für Farben kannst Du sehen?

If we talk of a specific item of this group (singular) we may say:

Was für eine Farbe kannst Du sehen?

Same holds true for clothing:

Was für Hosen hast du? Was für eine Hose trägst du?

Still, the non-colloquial variant is "welche", which can be used with singular, or plural.

With "Kleidung" both can be possible from a grammatical point of view as it is used as singulare tantum.

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"Was für Tee" may be colloquial but it is not at all uncommon... I ask that numerous times waiting tables and customers of all ages and social classes ask me inquiring for the kinds we serve. Also, asking "Welchen Tee haben Sie?" when you want to ask for a list of all available teas is wrong. "Was für" is the correct way there. "Welche/r/s/m/... " asks for one item out of a number of available ones whereas "was für" is used to get the available ones of which to chose from... But my main problem is the "uncommon". It is very very common... hence -1. – Emanuel Aug 5 '13 at 21:40
@Emanuel: From what you've said, I understand that "Was für" is translated as "What type", whereas "Welche" is translated as "Which". Right? – Luis Sep Aug 6 '13 at 6:29
@Emanuel: please read the answer before voting. It is uncommon in the example. It may however be used by a very young kid saying "was für Kleider hast du an?", and or of course in a different context. I feel it is important to this site to point of colloquial usage od language. – Takkat Aug 6 '13 at 6:42
@LuisSep... I would have said "What kind" but basically this is the difference – Emanuel Aug 6 '13 at 8:54
@Takkat: I did read the answer. It sais "examples" in plural. The Tee one is an example, too, while the Kleidung one is 1 example for me. Anyway... I removed the downvote but I still think you should modify the first sentence so that people don't mistakenly think "was für" is uncommon. – Emanuel Aug 6 '13 at 8:57

Because properly translated, Kleidung means clothes. It wouldn't make much sense to say:

What a clothes do you wear on the weekend?

If you look at

Was für ein

literally, it means:

What for a/an...

In the case of Was für einen Tee möchten Sie?, think of it as:

What kind of a tea would you like?

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