I wonder how one can distinguish in an oral conversation between homophone words: and , as both have the same pronunciation zài.

For example, in the sentence

Wǒ zài kàn diànyǐng.

how one can identify which of the following possibilities the speaker is referring to:

  1. 我在看电影。 - I'm watching a movie.

  2. 我再看电影。 - I watch again the movie.

  • (Answerers, please make sure to answer the question, not just correct the example.)
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jun 2, 2020 at 9:54
  • 2
    Regardless of your specific example, how do you distinguish between homophones in English (or any other language)? Context usually shows which meaning is intended.
    – Olle Linge
    Jun 2, 2020 at 20:25
  • 1
    I agree with @OlleLinge, there is no rule of thumb other than discerning it from the context. To be able to do that, you'll have to get experience in listening comprehension. "There", "their", "they're" are homophones in English. How do you decide if /ðeə(r) haʊs ɪz ɒn faɪə(r)/ is (a) "There house is on fire", (b) "They're house is on fire", or (c) "Their house is on fire", if not by your experience of spoken English comprehension and your ability to filter out what's logical and not.
    – imrek
    Aug 5, 2020 at 10:27

4 Answers 4


When zài followed by a noun, it can only mean 在

When zài followed by a verb, you have to check the context. -- 我在看电影 (I am watching movies) is a complete sentence. 我再看电影 (I watch movie again) doesn't sound like a complete sentence (need more context)

More example:

我在钓鱼 = I am fishing (complete sentence)

我再钓鱼 = I fishing again (seems incomplete)

下次我再钓鱼, 会记得确认是不是钓鱼季节 = Next time I go fishing again, I would remember to confirm it is the fishing season or not (it is a complete sentence)

  • How could you make 我再看电影 complete in a minimal example? Something like 我再看电影一次?
    – Puco4
    Jun 1, 2020 at 22:13
  • 1. Add a time reference, e.g. 我下次再看电影 (I will watch movies next time - implying not this time), 2, add verb before it . e.g. 我想再看电影 (I want to watch movies again)
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 1, 2020 at 22:16
  • If you heard case 2, couldn't also seem to be 我想在看电影 - I wish I was watching a movie ?
    – Puco4
    Jun 1, 2020 at 22:20
  • "我想在看电影" = "I want to - be watching movies" doesn't sound logical
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 1, 2020 at 22:21
  • 'Want to' doesn't usually followed by verb in present progressive tense
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 1, 2020 at 22:26

In the given example, 再 is the "future again", i.e., future tense:

While 又 (yòu) is used for "again" in the past, 再 (zài) is used for "again" in the future.
Expressing "again" in the future with "zai", Chinese Grammar Wiki; see also Comparing "zai" and "you"

(Putting aside other grammar structures, such as 先...再....)

However, the 在 is short for 正在 which expresses actions in progress, i.e., present tense (or at least, continuity within the specified time period).

在 (zài) and 正在 (zhèngzài) can be used as auxiliary verbs to express that an action is ongoing or in progress.
Expressing actions in progress with "zai", Chinese Grammar Wiki

So 我看电影 feels incomplete because you'd expect more context, e.g., a specified time period. Without 再 it could be 我看电影了 ["I'm again watching a movie"], or with 再 we might say:

I will not watch a movie again.

I will go watch a movie again tomorrow.

  • The main point I guess is if 我再看电影 is really incomplete or it just feels incomplete because people tend to say more specifications in order to distinguish it from the other zài 在?
    – Puco4
    Jun 2, 2020 at 10:28

I don't think 我再看电影 would be used along. It could be used in some longer statement such as:

  • 等周末有空我再看电影 (I will watch (some / the) movie(s) once I'm free in weekends.)
  • 我再看电影一定要多穿点 (I must wear more next time I come to watch a movie.)
  • 我再看电影我是狗 (I don't want to watch movies any more.)

In case 'wo zai kan-dianying' is the full sentence. It should be 在.


1.我在看电影。 - I'm watching a movie.

2.我想再看一次电影。 - I want to watch the movie again.

在 = ing

再 = again

Although the pron is same but the meaning is not same.

再 is use like "再..一次" or "再一次"(next time).

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