在 is a common word in Chinese used to express existence in a place, a location and actions in progress.

Expressing Existence in a Place

When used to express existence in a place, 在 can be translated into “to be at” or ” to be in” in English.

The sentence structure is

Subj. + 在 + Place

For Example

我在学校。
Wǒ zài xuéxiào
I am at school.

他们在英国。
Tāmen zài yīngguó.
They are in UK.

你在家吗?
Nǐ zàijiā ma
Are you at home?

Expressing location

在 can be used to indicate general location and specific location.

General Location

Sentence structure

在 + Place

For example,

在中国 Zài zhōngguó in China

在家 Zàijiā at home

在学校 Zài xuéxiào at school

Specific Location

Sentence structure

在 + Place + 上/下/里/旁边/etc.

For example,

我在火车上。
Wǒ zài huǒchē shàng
I am on the train.

王老师在楼下。
Wáng lǎoshī zài lóu xià
Mr Wang is downstairs.

他在学校里。
Tā zài xuéxiào lǐ.
He is at school.

猫在桌子旁。
Māo zài zhuōzi páng
The cat is beside the desk.

Expressing location before verbs

This is to specify what happens at certain location.

Sentence structure

Subj. + 在 + Place + Verb + (Obj.)

For example,

他在伦敦上大学。
Tā zài lúndūn shàng dàxué
He attends the university in London.

我在奶奶家吃晚饭。
Wǒ zài nǎinai jiā chī wǎnfàn.
I eat dinner at Grandma’s house.

我们在汽车站见面。
Wǒmen zài qìchē zhàn jiànmiàn.
We meet at the bus station.

我哥哥在家看电视。
Wǒ gēgē zàijiā kàn diànshì.
My older brother watches TV at home.

Expressing actions in progress

Both 在 (zài) and 正在 (zhèngzài) can be used in front of the verbs to express that an action is in progress. 正在(zhèngzài) puts a little more emphasis on an action that is  happening at the moment.

Sentence Structure

Subj. + 在 /正在 + Verb + Obj.

For example,

他在看书。/他正在看书。
Tā zài kànshū./Tā zhèngzài kànshū.
He is reading a book. / He is reading a book right now.

妹妹在打电话。/妹妹正在打电话。
Mèimei zài dǎ diànhuà./Mèimei zhèngzài dǎ diànhuà.
Little sister is talking on the phone. / Little sister is talking on the phone right now.

我正在上课, 不能打电话。
Wǒ zhèngzài shàngkè, bùnéng dǎ diànhuà.
I am having a lesson, cannot talk on the phone.

爸爸在开车。/爸爸正在开车。
Bàba zài kāichē./Bàba zhèngzài kāichē.
Dad is driving. / Dad is driving right now.


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