Aspect particle "zhe"
The particle 着 (zhe) is one way of indicating the continuous aspect in Mandarin Chinese (another common way is using the adverb 在 in front of verbs). You may have heard that the Chinese particle 着 added onto the end of verbs is similar to the use of -ing in English. This isn't particularly helpful, however, because the use of 着 in Chinese is not nearly so commonly used, and can also be quite idiomatic.
- 1 Basic Usage
- 2 Used for Manner or State in which an Action is Performed
- 3 Used for Continuous State
- 4 Colloquial Sayings
- 5 See also
- 6 Sources and further reading
The main idea here is that the action won't just happen and stop immediately; it will continue for a while.
Verb + 着
This basic pattern is often used with commands involving certain verbs where the action persists for a while.
- 我 读 ，你 听 着 。I'll read, and you listen.
- 我们 做 ，你们 看 着 。We will do it, and you all watch.
- 你们 坐 着 ，我 马上 回来 。Sit for a while. I'll be right back.
- 我 出去 一下 ，你 帮 我 看 着 行李 。I'll go out for a second, and you watch the luggage for me.
Used for Manner or State in which an Action is Performed
This pattern is used when you want to use one verb to describe how another action is performed.
Verb 1 + 着 + Verb 2
Note that the first verb (followed by 着) describes the state; the second verb is the action verb. In this case, the "-ing" translation can be useful for the state.
- 她 喜欢 站 着 吃饭 。"standing + eat = eating while standing"She likes to eat standing up.
- 他 笑 着 说 “对不起” 。"smiling + say = saying "I'm sorry" while smilingSmiling, he said, "I'm sorry."
- 孩子 抱 着 爸爸 哭 了 起来 。"hugging + cry = crying while huggingHugging his daddy, the child started to cry.
Note: If you want to make a sentence where both verbs are action verbs (neither is truly a state), then you don't want this pattern; you want 一边⋯⋯，一边⋯⋯ (yībiān..., yībiān...).
Used for Continuous State
While it's true that the "full progressive pattern" can make use of 着, this is not a pattern you're going to want to use all the time.
The verbs most commonly used with 着 are the ones below:
- 开 (kāi) alone can mean "to open" or "to turn on." Adding 着 allows one to express that something "is open" or "is on."
- 关 (guān) alone can mean "to close" or "to turn off." Adding 着 allows one to express that something "is closed" or "is off."
- 穿 (chuān) alone means "to wear." Adding 着 allows one to express that one "is wearing" something (on one's person).
- 戴 (dài) alone means "to wear" (an accessory). Adding 着 allows one to express that one "is wearing" a hat, jewelry, or accessory (on one's person).
- 躺 (tǎng) alone means "to lie on one's back." Adding 着 allows one to express that someone "is lying down."
- 公司 的 门 开 着 ，可是 没 人 在 。"Being open" is a state, so using 着 is natural.)The office door is open but no one is in there.
- 公司 的 门 在 开 ，可是 没 人 在 。"Being open" is not an action, so don't use 在.)
- 她 穿 着 一 条 小 黑 裙 。"Be wearing" is a state, so using 着 is natural.)She's wearing a little black dress.
- 她 在 穿 一 条 小 黑 裙 。"Be wearing" is not an action, so don't use 在.)
- 躺 着 最 舒服 。"Lying down" is a state, so using 着 is natural.)It's most comfortable just lying down.
- 在 躺 最 舒服 。"Lying here" is not strictly an action, so don't use 在.)
Certain verbs tend to take 着 more frequently than others, and what the 着 exactly is doing might not be apparent at all. It's best to think of these usages as set phrases.
- 听 着 ! "to listen and keep listening"
- 别 客气 ，拿 着 吧 。"to take and keep it"
- 你们 等 着 ! "to wait and keeping waiting"
Verb + 着 + 玩 "For Fun"
There's also one colloquial usage of 着 that's often chosen for special treatment by Chinese textbooks, so we'll cover it here as well:
Subj. + 是 + Verb + 着 + 玩 + 的
This pattern may look like that "doing an action in a particular state" pattern already covered above, but in practice it doesn't really work that way. It just means "[Verb] for fun" or "[Verb] as a joke."
Examples of Verb + 着 + 玩
- 你 不要 生气 ，我 是 说 着 玩 的 。Don't be mad. I was just joking.
- 我 听不懂 英文 歌 ，只 是 听 着 玩 的 。I don't understand English songs. I just listen to them for fun.
Sources and further reading
- A Practical Chinese Grammar For Foreigners (外国人实用汉语语法) (pp. 414 - 423) →buy
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 89) →buy
- Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar (pp. 217 - 225) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 242-3) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 2 (pp. 17) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 238-9) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） (pp. 255) →buy
- About.com: Mandarin Chinese Aspect
- ChinesePod: Qing Wen - The 着 (zhe) Chronicles: How We Verb (free content)
- ChinesePod: Qing Wen - The 着 (zhe) Chronicles: Actions in Progress (free content)
- ChinesePod: Qing Wen - The 着 (zhe) Chronicles: Verbs as States (free content)