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
Wǒ zài xuéxiào
I am at school.
Tāmen zài yīngguó.
They are in UK.
Nǐ zàijiā ma
Are you at home?
在 can be used to indicate general location and specific location.
在 + Place
在中国 Zài zhōngguó in China
在家 Zàijiā at home
在学校 Zài xuéxiào at school
在 + Place + 上／下／里／旁边／etc.
Wǒ zài huǒchē shàng
I am on the train.
Wáng lǎoshī zài lóu xià
Mr Wang is downstairs.
Tā zài xuéxiào lǐ.
He is at school.
Māo zài zhuōzi páng
The cat is beside the desk.
Expressing location before verbs
This is to specify what happens at certain location.
Subj. + 在 + Place + Verb + (Obj.)
Tā zài lúndūn shàng dàxué
He attends the university in London.
Wǒ zài nǎinai jiā chī wǎnfàn.
I eat dinner at Grandma’s house.
Wǒmen zài qìchē zhàn jiànmiàn.
We meet at the bus station.
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.
Subj. + 在 /正在 + Verb + Obj.
Tā zài kànshū./Tā zhèngzài kànshū.
He is reading a book. / He is reading a book right now.
Mèimei zài dǎ diànhuà./Mèimei zhèngzài dǎ diànhuà.
Little sister is talking on the phone. / Little sister is talking on the phone right now.
Wǒ zhèngzài shàngkè, bùnéng dǎ diànhuà.
I am having a lesson, cannot talk on the phone.
Bàba zài kāichē./Bàba zhèngzài kāichē.
Dad is driving. / Dad is driving right now.
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