Could you please explain me, is it necessary to use 在?

As I understand the meaning of these questions are: 你做什么?what do you do? 你在做什么?what are you doing?

But is it possible to ask about what another person is doing without 在 or is it obligatory? Is the meaning of 你做什么? of doing in general or could be understood as doing right now?

Thank you very much for helping! :)

  • study the 100 example sentences for 你做什么 and the 100 example sentences for 你在做什么 at jukuu
    – user6065
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 14:34

6 Answers 6


Here's my explanation: “你在做什么?” = “你正在做什么?”

在 can be normally used as abbreviation for 正在, which latter only means "right now". Therefore, 在 can be constitutive for the present continuous tense.

你做什么?could have different meanings or tense in different contexts, for example: 1. 你做什么(工作)? 2. 你(刚刚)做什么? 3. 你(这些天)做什么? 4. 你(打算)做什么? 5. 你(在)做什么?

When you add 在/正在, then You give a semantic restriction; the sentence can only mean: What are you doing? -- In this sense, it is necessary to add 在.


你做什么? and 你在做什么?have the same meaning.

在 is not compulsory to use although we use often.

For me I can understand and I think general people also can understand.


It is not necessary to use 在。

If you give more context, it would be easier to see what is meant. When you just offer 2 separate sentences it is hard to know. Both could mean 'What do you do?'

Very often, you will just hear: '干吗?‘ What are you doing?

该干吗干吗。 Do what you should do.

If you mean: 'What is your job?' you can say: 你做什么的? or 你是做什么的?


Only the tone of the difference. 在 Have the feeling of questioning.


IMO, is necessary for expressing progressive tense here. According to relevant context, 你做什么 might be used for the meaning of what are you doing, but in general, 你做什么? is more close to what will you do than what are you doing.

Anyway, only 你做什么 is a little dubious, that's why we usually add some additional words for disambiguation, e.g.

你在做什么? (What are you doing?)
你做什么呢? (What are you doing?)
你做什么了? (What did you do? What have you done?)
你要做什么? (What will you do?)
你做什么的? (What do you do? i.e. What's your job?)

When you use 在 or 正在 in a sentence in Chinese, you're basically making a present continuous sentence .

Although this is grammatically necessary but in daily life we rarely see people pay much attention to it . Like the use of the word 的 in 我的学校 and 我学校. both mean the same.

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