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:
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:
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:
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.
(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:
- “Zai” following verbs - Chinese Grammar Wiki
- Word order - Chinese Grammar Wiki
- Mandarin Chinese word order - East Asia Student
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