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I saw question like this:

为啥他老在摇?

I understand the sentence basically means "Why is he shaking?" what does the 老 add in this sentence?

I think sometimes it can mean "always", like "why is he always shaking?" or maybe even "why is he still shaking?" (maybe i'm wrong about that one though), but in the context when this text came up it was about a guy who was shaking for just a few seconds (it was written as a comment in relation to a person overacting and shaking while pretending to strangle an electronic component with a pillow), so it makes no sense to say that he always does that.

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  • 老 can mean "keep on" or "again and again"
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Mar 8 at 1:15

5 Answers 5

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老 literally means old, so it has a derived meaning that emphasizes some action/process keeps on and on or occurs again and again.

Examples:

为啥他老在摇? Why does he keep shaking? (The keep on and on meaning)

为啥老是这台机器出问题? Why is it always this machine that breaks? (The again and again meaning)

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In order for something to be 老, or "old", or gotten old, a long period or an extended period of time is required.

Thus 老 here is simply to create an imagery of an extended period of time.

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The word "老" mostly describes older things or things that have existed for a long time, such as old trees(老树), old cats(老猫), old people(老人), and old TVs(老旧的电视). "为啥他老在摇?" The word "old" in "Why is he always shaking?" is of course also used to describe the high frequency of things happening. As a local speaker, I talk like that everyday, but after seeing your question, I actually am a little confuse about it too. But You can think of it this way, "Why is he always shaking?" This usage of "老" is a dialect, and hosts on TV stations will not use it this way. For example, when reporting on the future weather, the host will say "未来几天将频繁降雨" but will not say "未来几天将老是降雨."

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I like blueberries too!

老: 总是,经常:老是生病。

为啥他老在摇?
Why is he always shaking? (He operates jackhammers for a living!)

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老, short form for 老是, means something has been on for a 'long' time. But it's purely subjective about what it means to be long enough. That's why this word does not appear in objective statements which other OPs already pointed out. 为啥他老在摇? might indicate that the speaker is annoyed at what the other person is doing. But it could also be just out of curiosity. That depends on the speaker's tone and the context. Similar words are 总, 总是, etc.

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