When 在 (zài) comes after the verb in Chinese grammar

In Chinese grammar, the preposition 在 (zài) can sometimes appear after the verb. This can be confusing for people learning Chinese, because in most constructions prepositions like 在 should come before the verb.

First, let’s have a look at the more common, ‘normal’ placement of 在 in a Chinese sentence:

我在家里学习。

Wǒ zài jiālǐ xuéxí.

I study at home.

Notice how the preposition 在家里 comes before the verb in this Chinese sentence. This is different to English, in which the preposition ‘at home’ comes after the verb. However, in some situations, 在 can come after the verb in Chinese as well.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a nice, general rule that decides whether or not 在 should go before or after the verb. Normally it should come before, but with verbs that indicate position, movement or placement, 在 should come after. There are also specific verbs that nearly always appear in this structure.

As always, we recommend listening and reading as much real Chinese as you can to get a natural feel for these situations. In the meantime, let’s have a look at some example sentences to try and demonstrate this point.

在 often comes after the verb 住 (zhù)

The most common situation where 在 comes after the verb is probably in 住在 - ‘to live in [a place]‘. The basic structure for this is:

[person] 住在 [place]

That is the set, standard way to talk about people living in specific locations. Some examples:

我住在香港。

Wǒ zhù zài Xiānggǎng.

I live in Hong Kong.

他住在哪儿?

Tā zhù zài nǎr?

Where does he live?

我以前住在泰国,但现住在俄罗斯。

Wǒ yǐqián zhù zài Tàiguó, dàn xiàn zhù zài èluósī.

I used to live in Thailand, but now I live in Russia.

我出生于东京,但现住在柏林。

Wǒ chūshēng yú Dōngjīng, dàn xiàn zhù zài Bólín.

I was born in Tokyo, but now I live in Berlin.

As you can see, 在 comes after the verb in each of these sentences. This is a very common structure, and you can’t put 在 before the verb in this situation.

在 often comes after the verb 坐 (zuò)

Another very common situation in which 在 comes after the verb is with the verb 坐 - ‘to sit’. You might notice the similarity between 坐在 and 住在 - both are about position or placement. Let’s have a look at some examples for 坐在:

请你坐在这里。

Qǐng nǐ zuò zài zhèlǐ.

Please sit here.

我可以坐在这里吗?

Wǒ kěyǐ zuò zài zhèlǐ ma?

Can I sit here?

他坐在那里发愣。

Tā zuò zài nàlǐ fālèng.

He sat there daydreaming.

It might be helpful to think of 住在 and 坐在 as set vocabulary items, and try to practice using them in various sentences. This way you will get used to putting 在 and the location after these verbs.

在 often comes after the verb 放 (fàng)

Our last example verb here is 放 - ‘to put’ or ‘to place’. Hopefully you can see the pattern with these verbs - they’re all about placement or location.

放在桌子上。

Fàng zài zhuōzi shàng.

Put it on the table.

不要把脏衣服放在床上!

Bùyào bǎ zàng yīfú fàng zài chuángshàng!

Don't put dirty clothes on the bed!

工具应该放在手边。

Gōngjù yīnggāi fàng zài shǒubiān.

You should keep your tools close at hand.

我把我买的东西放在包里。

Wǒ bǎ wǒ mǎi de dōngxi fàng zài bāolǐ.

I put the things I bought in the bag.

(See also: 把 (bǎ) structure)

Whilst we’ve only looked at 住在, 坐在 and 放在 in this article, there are many more situations in which 在 may come after the verb. These are just the most common situations which beginners are likely to encounter. If you’re interested, have a look at a few more example sentences with some other verbs:

请把名字写在这里。

Qǐng bǎ míngzì xiě zài zhèlǐ.

Please write your name here.

我把雨伞忘在家里了。

Wǒ bǎ yǔsǎn wàng zài jiālǐ le.

I left my umbrella at home.

你生在哪儿?

Nǐ shēng zài nǎr?

Where were you born?

See also:

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