So first off, I feel I should specify I am a beginner at Chinese. In my Chinese class, we were asked to write down a progressive question, using the 在...(呢) format. My question was, 你们没在去吗? which I interpreted as, "aren't you going?". Another student asked a similar question, with the verb 回来. My teacher said that in Chinese, 去 and 回来 are not used with 在 to become progressive. Why are these verbs exceptions and what other verb have the same exception?

  • Next time you ask your teacher if this is right: 「我在去/回北京的路上。 (I'm on my way to/back to Beijing.) 」, then watch how your teacher responses :)
    – Travis Hu
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 5:18
  • From what I remember, she said that you could use it when a specific location is involved, but if you just try to say something like, 他正在去呢, that isn't right.
    – N.D.H.
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 6:00
  • 我在路上 -> 我在(回北京的)路上 -- " 回北京的" is the adjective phrase for 路
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 6:02
  • But why is 他正在去呢 wrong?
    – N.D.H.
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 6:12
  • It needs something after: you can say 我正在去。。。。的途中 or 我正在去。。。的路上
    – Mou某
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 7:29

2 Answers 2


The answer is "habit".
Because we don't write or talk in that way.

For example, both 肥 and 胖 mean "fat".
We call a fat person as 胖子.
肥子 is not usual because we don't have the habit.

He is going to school.
We translate it into 他在去學校的途中.
We don't have the habit to say 他在去學校.

That fat guy is going to school.
??? 那肥子在去學校。 ???

Besides 去 and 來, 返, 歸, 往 and 到 are also included.
These verbs are used together with something like "on the way (途中/路上)" to express the progressive tense.

回 is acceptable. For instance,
Q: "他有沒有回電話?" (Did he call back?)
A: "他正在回。" (He is calling back.)

  • I apologize for asking this but I am a bit of a novice to the language. I have only encountered 的 with possession, adjectives, and the 是。。。的 construction. What does 的 mean in these sentences?
    – N.D.H.
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 15:52

Because “去” is an achievement verb - it is instantaneous. English has tenses such as "going", but Chinese has no tenses in that respect. The lexical meaning of QU is more like "remove" than it is like the English "go". The action of "qu" is instantaneous, so you cannot make it progressive.

"Lai" is the same. It's instantaneous. 回來 modifies how the person is "lai", but the main verb is still "lai" and is instantaneous.

In your translation of "aren't you going?", a better way to say that would be "你們不是要去嗎“。Something like, "Aren't you going to go?"

I see some people have responded with talking about the locative "zai". These are different meaning of "zai". If you say 我在去北京的路上,it is saying "I am on the way to Beijing". The zai means you are literally ON the road. It is not the progressive zai, although the intended meaning is similar in that you're saying you're currently on the way.

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