Where are you? What are you doing?

I translated this to:

Ni zai nar? Ni zuo shenme?

But I found

Ni zai zuo shenme?

online. How is it zai zuo (in + to do)? Is it correct if I just say zuo (to do)?? Does it express the right meaning?

  • zai in "Ni zai nar?" is a preposition, meaning "in; at". zai+Verb in "Ni zai zuo shenme?" is an adverb, expressing continuation of an action, in other words: V-ing. It's okay to omit zai and just say "Ni zuo shenme?"
    – Reynaldi
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 8:01
  • 1
    在 refers to progressive tense explicitly.
    – user4072
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 8:10
  • usually called "progressive aspect" 动作的进行 most recently discussed in chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/30209/…
    – user6065
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 9:21
  • You're all good at grammar. What I want to say is: "zai" can also be "zhengzai"(正在). You may say "Ni zhengzai zuo shenme?", but this would be more formal than "Ni zai zuo shenme?" Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 19:27
  • I say Ni zai zuo shenme? only when I want to know what you are doing right now, like when I call someone on the phone and want to know that. The "zai" is actually short for 现在, (Xiàn zài) Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 14:07

4 Answers 4


We usually don't say "你做什么(ni zuo shen me)". We only say it when we are shocked, like when you just meet a man trying to robber you, you'll say that to him.

If you're asking someone what are you doing, you should use "你在做什么(ni zai zuo shen me)".


There is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to express oneself. Here a couple of suggestions which may fit in certain circumstances. You can listen and read the words.

Listen here(张国荣) Where are you? 你在何地

Listen here Where are you all now? 你们如今在何方

What are you doing?!

你在干什么? What are you doing?

What the hell are you doing? (a little angry) 你到底在干吗?


The first sentence is perfectly fine:

Where are you?
Nǐ zài nǎr?

The usage of 在 (zài) = "to be located at" here is different to its usage in the second part.

With regards to the second sentence, the 在 (zài) indicates an action in progress, in this case it modifies the verb 做 (zuò) = "to do".

What are you doing?
zài zuò shénme?

I don't believe it's grammatically incorrect without the 在 (zài), but it's ambiguous and unusual. Typically we would hear it in:

What's your job?
Nǐ zuò shénme gōngzuò?

What should I do?
Wǒ yīnggāi zuò shénme?

The distinction may be clearer if we replace 做 (zuò) = "to do" with 吃 (chī) = "to eat".

What are you eating?
zài chī shénme?

What do you eat?
Nǐ chī shénme?

The first question is about what you are currently eating ("I'm currently eating M&M's"). The second question is about what you generally eat ("I eat vegetarian food").


I would add 在 to make 你做什么?

In this case, 在 would make the equivalent of the English present progressive VERBing ending.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.