Expressing actions in progress (full form)

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You may have learned that 在 (zài) and 正在 (zhèngzài) can be used before verbs to express that an action is ongoing or in progress. They are used to create the Mandarin equivalent of present continuous in English. But that pattern is actually a part of a longer, fuller pattern. It's rarely used in its full form, but bits and pieces of it are frequently used in everyday speech, so it's important to know the full form, even if you don't use it regularly yourself.


Subj. + 正在 / 正 / 在 + Verb + 呢

If it's a Separable verb, you need to put the 着 between the verb and the object, or you can just leave 着 out.

Subj. (+ 正) + Verb + 着 + Obj. + 呢

Subj. + Verb + Obj. + 呢

It's important to remember that virtually every part of the above pattern is optional, so you're going to see all sorts of variations of it (and rarely the full form). The most common variation is just the "在 + V" pattern that you probably already learned long ago. Another common variation is "正 + V" pattern.


  • 正在 吃饭 。zhèngzài chīfàn.
  • zhèng chī zhe fàn ne.
  • 我 吃 饭 Wǒ chīfàn ne.I'm eating now.
  • 爷爷 正在 看 报纸 ,别 打扰 他 。Yéye zhèngzài kàn bàozhǐ, bié dǎrǎo tā.
  • 爷爷 看 报纸 ,别 打扰 他 。Yéye zài kàn bàozhǐ ne, bié dǎrǎo tā.
  • 爷爷 看 报纸 ,别 打扰 他 。Yéye kàn bàozhǐ ne, bié dǎrǎo tā.Grandpa is reading newspapers now. Don't disturb him.
  • 上厕所 。zài shàng cèsuǒ.
  • 上 厕所zhèng shàng cèsuǒ ne.
  • 他 上 厕所 Tā shàng cèsuǒ ne.He's using the bathroom now.
  • 我们 上 汉语 课 。Wǒmen zài shàng Hànyǔ kè.
  • 我们 上 汉语 课 Wǒmen zhèng shàng Hànyǔ kè ne.
  • 我们 上 汉语 课 Wǒmen shàng zhe Hànyǔ kè ne.We're having a Chinese lesson now.
  • 老板 开会,不 方便 接 电话 。Lǎobǎn zài kāihuì, bù fāngbiàn jiē diànhuà.
  • 老板 会 ,不 方便 接 电话 。Lǎobǎn zhèng kāi zhe huì, bù fāngbiàn jiē diànhuà.
  • 老板 开 ,不 方便 接 电话 。Lǎobǎn kāi zhe huì ne, bù fāngbiàn jiē diànhuà.The boss is in the middle of a meeting. It's not convenient for him to talk on the phone.

See also

Sources and further reading