The usage of zai 在 +Location (+ Verb)

How do you express to “be in/at” in Chinese?

In Chinese, we use the word “在” (Zài).

For instance,

Where are you? 你在哪儿? Nǐ zài nǎ’er?

I am at home. 我在家。Wǒ zàijiā

I am not in school; I am at home.

我不在学校,我在家。

Wǒ bùzài xuéxiào, wǒ zàijiā.

I am in Taipei. 我在台北。 Wǒ zài táiběi.

I am in China. 我在中国。Wǒ zài zhōngguó.

Here is the sentence structure for all the above sentences:

Subject + 在 + location

Now let’s build on this sentence structure and provide more information about activities taking place in a certain location.

If you want to express you are in a place doing a certain activity, you would use the following sentence pattern:

Subject+ 在 (Zài)+ location + Verb.

Important: Note that it is a different grammatical structure from English. In English you would say, Subj + Verb + in/at Location. (I read at home. ) But in Chinese, we would place “在+location” before the verb instead:

我在家看书。Wǒ zàijiā kànshū.

(Literally translated–I at home read [book].)

我在家吃饭。我不在饭店吃饭。Wǒ zàijiā chīfàn. Wǒ bùzài fàndiàn chīfàn.

(Literally translated, “I at home eat, I don’t at a restaurant eat.”)

我在学校学中文。Wǒ zài xuéxiào xué zhōngwén.

(Literally translated, I in school learn Chinese”).

It is worth learning a very important sentence you can use when making a phone call, using the word 在.

In English on the phone, you say, “May I speak to XX?” In Chinese, we don’t usually say “May I speak to XX?” Chinese would say, “请问XX在吗?” (Can be translated as “May I ask, Is XX around?). That is how we ask to talk to someone on the phone.

“May I speak to Mr. Wang?”

In Chinese, we would say this phrase instead:

请问王先生在吗?

(Literally translated, “[May] [I] please ask, “Is Mr. Wang there?”

Qǐngwèn wáng xiānshēng zài ma?

Yes, please wait a second.

在,请等一下。Zài, qǐng děng yīxià.

If this is not enough information for you, here is something more you can learn about the word “在.”

The word “在” has many meanings. It is an important word to learn. Additional Information about the usage of the word “在”:

Another key usage of the word is: It also indicates an activity is taking place right at this moment. For instance,

我在吃饭。Wǒ zài chīfàn.

I am eating [now].

我在看电视。Wǒ zài kàn diànshì.

I am watching TV [now].

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