In Chinese it will be "Tamen zai ying guo ma?" But I studied that we use shi to connect nouns, so can we also say: Tamen "shi" zai ying guo ma? Is it also grammatically correct?

It's just easier for me to understand and remember...

  • connecting nouns (noun phrases, NP)means: NP 是 NP, 是 can function as adverb (1) 表示肯定 [certainly; really], 是在 itself is a vocabulary item, cf. bkrs 是在 [on] 用作虚词, 表示一定时间或一段时间,e.g.他是在星期一去世的,他是在农村长大, but w/o following verb 他是在英国 sounds strange, one can say 他是在英国长大
    – user6065
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 6:56

3 Answers 3


No, unlike the English language which needs "to be" to express this, you don't need the copula shi 是 to describe the location of someone or something.

You just use zai 在 (or, for example, 位于) to express this.

Saying 他们是在英国吗 is possible, but the shi in that sentence has a different function: it adds emphasis.


在 is not a direct equivalent of English in but also includes a verbal meaning to be in in addition to the "prepositional". Thus, in normal narrative sentences do not use 是 to state "to be in". Saying 我是在XXX would mean something like "but I AM in [XXX]!"


他们在英国吗? (他们现在在英国吗? is also common.)

Are they in Britain? (a general question, has no presumption)


They're in Britain, aren't they? (you kind of know they might be in Britain, and you are making sure by asking)

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