Question #1: What are the differences between these three sentences:

  1. 他坐在椅子上
  2. 他在椅子上坐着
  3. 他在椅子上坐 (wrong)

Question #2: Why is "他在椅子上坐" wrong?

  • After reading some answers, I would like to add a context to the question: 小张 sat on the chair, 不知应不应该到教室前面去。
    – cnwang09
    Nov 4, 2015 at 14:18
  • 1
    cf。CCG Ch.26 Prosody and Syntax 26.2.3 Intransitive verbs at the end of sentences Monosyllabic intransitive verbs follow the pattern we have seen above and also cannot stand alone at the end of a sentence。Thus 他在椅子上坐 would violate the above requirement, but 他在椅子上坐着 is OK and so is 他在椅子上坐下(He seated himself in a chair).
    – user6065
    Nov 30, 2015 at 14:41
  • @user6065 What does "cf。CCG Ch.26 Prosody and Syntax 26.2.3" mean?
    – cnwang09
    Nov 30, 2015 at 14:53
  • Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar 2nd Edition
    – user6065
    Nov 30, 2015 at 15:00
  • 1
    CCG: "Exceptionally, in emphatic utterances, expressing urgency, strong emotion etc, monosyllabic verbal (or adjectival) endings do occur".
    – user6065
    Jan 21, 2016 at 15:41

7 Answers 7


1) 他坐在椅子上 = 2) 他在椅子上坐着

He is sitting on/in a chair.


He sits on /in a chair.

You choose which translation to use depending on which part you want to stress.(movement or status)

3) 他在椅子上坐 (questionable)

He sits on /in a chair.

If He sits on /in a chair in English sounds right to you, then 他在椅子上坐 is grammatically correct as well.

Here I can give you a rare context where it CAN be correct.


You'd better put your context here so we can discuss. Safely speaking, avoid the third usage unless you are confident that you are correct.

  • Thank you! I think you are right. It doesn't make sense to discuss about it without a given context.
    – cnwang09
    Nov 4, 2015 at 14:05
  • However, the intention that I was asking is to find out whether there is a grammar "rule" to address this issue. There are many similar situations like this one: 他站在大街上 vs 他在大街上站;他趴在那里 vs 他在那里趴。
    – cnwang09
    Nov 4, 2015 at 14:09
  • 他在大街上站,他在那里趴 just sounds wrong to me if not in a specific context like the one I gave. Sorry cannot give you a specific grammar reference why it is wrong.
    – John
    Nov 5, 2015 at 1:22

There seems to be no particular reason why generally a verb cannot be placed after an adverbial phrase, it's just a matter of "sense".
For example:
He sleeps on the bed.
If a Chinese hear this, he may guess that your emphasis lies on "on the bed", to show that this person sleeps on the bed instead of floor or sofa.
On the bed, he sleeps. (A bit weird in English?)
This is different. For a Chinese, this sounds like a plain descriptive sentence.
Of course, I gave an example when both sentences are grammatically right, but slightly different on meanings. But for a foreigner, how can he tell the difference based solely on the characters?
For the sentence in your question, 他在椅子上坐 (without a context) just sounds weird, period. It may be semantically right, but not grammatically. I believe this may happen in English or any other languages.

  • Agree! Foreign students usually don't have enough time to listen to authentic speakings. So if two sentences are grammatically right and have the same words, I cannot tell which is right.
    – cnwang09
    Nov 30, 2015 at 14:51

Interesting question! The first two have nearly the same meaning, but I think the second emphasizes the "current" quality of the action more. That is to say, I would translate


as "He sits on a chair," while I would translate


as "He is currently sitting on the chair." Given the context you provided in your comment, this seems like the most likely wording.

I'm not sure why I should feel that this formulation changes the chair to a specific one, but perhaps it's that in English, the sentence "He is currently sitting on a chair" has an odd feeling of unnecessary vagueness about it (perhaps because a chair is the default thing to sit on).

The third sentence


has an odd feel to it, as though it were missing something (possibly a second syllable, as mentioned in the comments). Also, without the progressive 著 at the end, it seems to say that he habitually sits on a chair, which seems like an odd thing to say of someone.


他在椅子上坐 is not necessarily wrong. For example, in such context: 他在椅子上坐, (而不是在床上坐), makes sense.

for your question 1, I don't think expression 1 and 2 have a big difference there.

  • Thank you! However, this is a multiple-choice question. The choices have both 他在椅子上坐着 and 他在椅子上坐. The correct answer is the former one. So maybe I should ask: why 他在椅子上坐着 is better than 他在椅子上坐? (there isn't other context provided.)
    – cnwang09
    Nov 4, 2015 at 1:11
  • @cnwang09 So why didn't you vote me up? Dec 10, 2015 at 1:17

Here 着 is a character indicate status in Chinese, like "doing" for present tense in English. You can imagine 坐 is a verb sit, it must come with 着"-ing" in present tense.

As a summary, 坐=sit,坐着=sitting


LOL,seeing this question I want to say,have you ever heard about Chinglish?while,what you ask is just the Chinese of English style. "他坐在椅子上","坐"is a verb,focus on the motion of sitting. "他在椅子上坐着"focus on the condition of sitting. In grammar aspect,most of Chinese can't explain the 3rd one,but we know we just don't use it.


First, you need to notice the difference between and 坐着, as mentioned before:

As a summary, 坐=sit,坐着=sitting

Second, let take a look at the whole sentences,notice the Bold character which express its most meaning. 在椅子上 here function as adverb, yet do note that 在椅子上 can work as a verb.

  1. 在椅子上

  2. 在椅子上 坐着

Third, 他在椅子上坐 is a sentence Chinese native can understand, yet their seldom use it either in writing or speaking.

  • This doesn't answer the question at all. Nov 4, 2015 at 12:37

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