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When teaching English to my Chinese students, I find that it’s always a bit difficult for them to switch between the simple present and the simple present continuous tenses in English. That is, the different between saying “I go” and “I am going.” Thankfully, this really isn’t so tough in Chinese. In this post we’re going to take a look at talking about ongoing actions in Chinese and give you plenty of examples to start using it. Basically, we’ll learn how to answer the question “What are you doing?” in Chinese.
Before we dive into the grammar, let’s take a moment to review the Chinese pronouns:
For some more practice, you can also review this video on Chinese pronouns and the verb “to be”:
That’s another great thing about learning Chinese – you don’t have to worry about conjugating the verb “to be” like you do in English. It’s just 是 (shì) for everyone! We won’t be using that verb much in this post, but it’s important to know anyways!
Here’s the basic formula for asking a question about ongoing actions:
It may seem a little confusing at first, but it really is quite simple. You can choose either 在 or 正在, and then you can choose either 做 or 干. For example, here are two different ways to ask “What are you doing?”:
They both mean exactly the same thing, so you can choose one or the other, alternate between the two – whatever works for you! See if you can practice now. What are the two ways you could ask “What is she doing?” Just follow the example above but change the pronoun and you’ve got it! Now let’s look at answering this question.
Answering these types of questions is even easier than asking them. Just follow this simple format:
Once again, you can use 在 or 正在 in the answer. It doesn’t really matter, but typically you answer in the same format that the question was in. Here’s an example for you to see it in action:
Whoa! 你很棒! That means “You’re awesome!” and it’s true, because you’re learning Chinese with us. Isn’t it easier than you thought? Let’s learn some common activities that you might answer such a question with.
Here’s a list of 20 daily activities that you should definitely memorize. Chances are one of these will be your answer to the question “What are you doing?”, as we spend most of our time doing these things!
Now let’s put this all together! Here are a few more examples for you to study and then a practice activity for you to try at home:
Now it’s your turn! See if you can translate the following examples into Chinese for some practice:
I’m sure you can do it! We’ve got plenty of other resources to help you learn Chinese, such as a free word of the day delivered right to your inbox. Learning a language is never easy, but with persistence and the right attitude you’ll definitely see results. Plus, now is the perfect time to make studying a language your New Year’s Resolution!