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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.

Structure

Subj. + 在 + Verb + Obj.

or

Subj. + 正在 + Verb + Obj.

Examples

  • 看 书。zài kànshū.She is reading.
  • 妈妈 打 电话。Māma zài dǎ diànhuà.Mom is making a phone call.
  • 里面 洗澡?Shéi zài lǐmiàn xǐzǎo?Who is taking a shower in there?
  • 阿姨 正在 打扫 我们 的 房间。Āyí zhèngzài dǎsǎo wǒmen de fángjiān.The cleaning lady is cleaning our room right now.
  • 昨天 晚上 七点,我们 吃饭。Zuótiān wǎnshang qīdiǎn, wǒmen zài chīfàn. Yesterday at 7pm, we were eating dinner.
  • 老板 开会,没有 时间 见 你。Lǎobǎn zài kāihuì, méiyǒu shíjiān jiàn nǐ.The boss is currently in a meeting. He doesn't have time to see you.
  • 我 现在 上班,不方便 离开。Wǒ xiànzài zài shàngbān, bù fāngbiàn líkāi.I am working now. It's not convenient for me to leave.
  • 我们 正在 上课,请 你 等 一会儿。Wǒmen zhèngzài shàngkè, qǐng nǐ děng yīhuìr.We are in class right now; please wait a moment.
  • 正在 开车,不 可以 玩 手机。zhèngzài kāichē, bù kěyǐ wán shǒujī.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 。Nǐ gěi wǒ dǎ diànhuà de shíhou, wǒ zhèngzài gēn péngyou dǎ yóuxì.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.

See Also

Sources and further reading

Books