I can't get my head around the 着 在 正在 呢 grammar.

I have a lot of questions regarding this grammar but I'll just focus on one here.

If anyone wants to expand then you are more than welcome.



Is there any difference between these two expressions ?

I can't seem to find a precise explanation anywhere.

5 Answers 5


他在睡觉 is to state the fact he is sleeping, which may not necessarily imply anything.

他在睡觉呢 adds a tone in the sentence, which often invokes some implications such as he is sleeping so he can't answer you now, he is supposed to do something else while he's still sleeping, and etc. The implications are various based on the real context.

Sometimes, 呢 is just to add a bit emphasis without any implications.他在睡觉呢 might just mean he is sleeping(underlying meaning: we should not bother him).

Overall, context is essential for analyzing the underlying meaning or implications of the speakers.


You:"What is Bob doing?"

Bob's mother:"他在睡觉"

You:"Hey,Bob,Let's go outside and..."

Bob's mother:"他在睡觉呢"

it shows that what you say is replying to what happened.

a little like ん in Japanese.


NOTE: All I will talk about in this answer is when related to a verb and in an Affirmative sentence! There are other meanings in other situations.

1. Difference between 正在 and 在 (before a verb).

正在 and 在 are almost the same, just like "I am"/"I'm" and "He is"/"He's"


Q:你在做什么?What are you doing?

A:我在吃午饭。I'm eating lunch.


A:我正在吃午饭。I am eating lunch.

Both are OK.

2. 呢(after a verb) is a common particle in Chinese which is used to express feelings in the sentence.

呢 shows less respect if added in to a sentence. Usually happens in a conversation, to a same-aged friend, or someone younger.


Boss: 你可以尽快处理好这个问题吗?Can you solve this issue ASAP?

Employee: 我在吃午饭,我吃完会尽快解决它的。I'm eating lunch,I will fix it ASAP after lunch.


Employee: 你可以帮我处理这个问题吗? Can you help me solve this issue?

Boss: 我在吃午饭,等会再说。I'm eating lunch, will talk about it later.

Answer to the Question:

Lieutenant: 李现在在干什么?去让他过来见我。What is Lee doing right now? Go ask him to come here to see me.

Soldier: 他正在睡觉。我现在去叫醒他。He is sleeping. I'm going to awake him up.


Lee: 中尉现在在干什么?我需要和他说话。What is Lieutenant doing right now? I need to talk to him.

Soldier: 他正在睡觉。你最好一小时后再来。He is sleeping. You better come an hour later.


The relevant grammar structure is:

Subj. + 正在 / 正 / 在 + Verb + 呢
Expressing actions in progress (full form), Chinese Grammar Wiki

They also write:

They are used to create the Mandarin equivalent of present continuous in English. ...

It's important to remember that virtually every part of the above pattern is optional, so you're going to see all sorts of variations of it (and rarely the full form).

So the full form is 他正在睡觉呢 and both 他在睡觉呢 and 他在睡觉 are variants. However, saying 他正在睡觉呢 is clunky.

This is similarly explained below, with an additional point describing the 呢 as functioning as a rhetorical question:

Adding 你 ne at the end of a sentence indicates the continuation aspect (with or without the marker 在 zài or 正 zhèng), but adds a rhetorical tone to the utterance:

外面在下雨呢 wàimiàn zài xiàyǔ ne
(Don't you know) it's raining [outside].

Po-ching Yip, Don Rimmington, Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar, 2004.

So we can likewise think of 他在睡觉呢 as a rhetorical question "(don't you know) he's sleeping" whereas 他在睡觉 is a plain "he's sleeping".


他在睡觉呢。has more emphasis than the "plain" 他在睡觉。

Think of it as "Sssh!!! He's sleeping!" vs "He's sleeping".

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