Expressing actions in progress with "zai"
在 (zài) and 正在 (zhèngzài) can be used as auxiliary verbs to express that an action is ongoing or in progress. This is often the equivalent of present continuous in English, which is how we express that an activity is happening now.
You can use 正在 (zhèngzài) instead of just 在 (zài) to put a little more emphasis on an action that is in progress right now.
Subj. + 在 + Verb + Obj.
Subj. + 正在 + Verb + Obj.
- 她 在 看 书。She is reading.
- 妈妈 在 打 电话。Mom is making a phone call.
- 谁 在 里面 洗澡？Who is taking a shower in there?
- 阿姨 正在 打扫 我们 的 房间。The cleaning lady is cleaning our room right now.
- 昨天 晚上 七点，我们 在 吃饭。 Yesterday at 7pm, we were eating dinner.
- 老板 在 开会，没有 时间 见 你。The boss is currently in a meeting. He doesn't have time to see you.
- 我 现在 在 上班，不方便 离开。I am working now. It's not convenient for me to leave.
- 我们 正在 上课，请 你 等 一会儿。We are in class right now; please wait a moment.
- 你 正在 开车，不 可以 玩 手机。You're driving right now; you can't play with your cell phone.
- 你 给 我 打 电话 的时候，我 正在 跟 朋友 打 游戏 。When you called me, I was playing video games with friends.
There is no need to worry too much about when to use 在 (zài) or 正在 (zhèngzài), since they basically mean the same thing. 正在 (zhèngzài) usually shows that the action is in progress (right now). "在 (zài) + Verb" is more commonly used than "正在 (zhèngzài) + Verb," but both are fine to use.
Sources and further reading
- HSK Standard Course 1 (pp. 100) →buy
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (pp. 41-2) →buy
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 60-1) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (3rd ed) (pp. 209-10) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 218-9) →buy