Expressing actions in progress (full form)
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.
- 我 正在 吃饭 。
- 我 正 吃 着 饭 呢 。
- 我 吃 饭 呢。I'm eating now.
- 爷爷 正在 看 报纸 ，别 打扰 他 。
- 爷爷 在 看 报纸 呢 ，别 打扰 他 。
- 爷爷 看 报纸 呢 ，别 打扰 他 。Grandpa is reading newspapers now. Don't disturb him.
- 他 在 上厕所 。
- 他 正 上 厕所呢 。
- 他 上 厕所 呢 。He's using the bathroom now.
- 我们 在 上 汉语 课 。
- 我们 正 上 汉语 课 呢 。
- 我们 上 着 汉语 课 呢 。We're having a Chinese lesson now.
- 老板 在 开会，不 方便 接 电话 。
- 老板 正 开 着 会 ，不 方便 接 电话 。
- 老板 开 着 会 呢 ，不 方便 接 电话 。The boss is in the middle of a meeting. It's not convenient for him to talk on the phone.
Sources and further reading
- Chinese Grammar Without Tears (简明汉语语法学习手册) (pp. 54-7) [ →buy]
- Common Chinese Patterns 330 (汉语常用格式330例) (pp. 321) →buy
- Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar (pp. 217-26) →buy
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (pp. 216-8) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 106-7) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） (pp. 157) →buy
- ChinesePod: Qing Wen - The 着 (zhe) Chronicles: Actions in Progress (free podcast content)