Level 1 Lesson 10.1 – I Am At Work

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To Be Doing Something in Chinese with Adverb 在 | 工作 VS. 上班

In this video lesson we'll learn how to say to be doing something in Chinese with Adverb 在, how to ask someone what are they doing in Chinese.

  • Adverb 在: suggesting to be doing something in Chinese
  • 做 vs 干 in Chinese: Ask someone what they are doing in Chinese 在做什么 / 在干什么
  • Omitting the Adverb 在
  • 工作 vs 上班 in Chinese
  • 上: 上班 / 上学 / 上课



Grammar 1: To Be Doing Something in Chinese with Adverb 在 · HSK 1

In Lesson 1 and Lesson 3 we learned the character Preposition 在 and Verb 在, today we'll learn another usage of 在:

 Adverb: We used the Adverb 在 before a Verb (Phrase) to suggest that the action is in progress and continuous.

We can say someone to be doing something in Chinese with Adverb 在.

Subject + Adv.  + Verb (Phrase)

  • wǒmen zài  shuō Zhōngwén
    We are speaking Chinese.
  • tāde péngyou zài shàngkè
    Her friend is taking/giving a class.
  • nàwèi xiānsheng zài kàn diànyǐng
    That gentleman is watching a movie.


Grammar 2: To Do in Chinese 做 vs 干 · HSK 1

There are two ways to express the meaning to do in Chinese, it's zuò 做 and gàn 干.

Here's how we compare 做 vs 干.

zuò 做 is more like the standard way to say to do in Chinese, it is more likely to be used in written language.

gàn 干 is a lot more likely to be used in spoken language. 干 has a stronger style of colloquial language.

So to ask someone what they are doing in Chinese, we can use both 做 and 干.

  • nǐ zài zuò shénme
    What are you doing?
  • tāmen zài gàn shénme
    What are they doing?

And we can also say sentences like these:

  • nǐ péngyou xiǎng zuò shénme
    What does your friend want to do?
  • nǐde lǎoshī zài Měiguó gàn shénme
    What is your teacher doing in America?


Grammar 3: Omitting the Adverb 在 · HSK 1

When we want to say that someone to be doing something at some place, for example "He is taking class at school", we cannot say *someone + "zai" some place + "zai" doing something.

For example we don't say *他在学校在上课. We need to omit the second 在 and say 他在学校上课.

This is because in these situations the first 在 takes on the meaning of the second 在. So the structure goes likes this:

  + Place + Verb (Phrase)

  • Q: tā zài zuò shénme
          What is he doing?
    A: tā zài lǎoshī jiā shàngkè
          He is taking class at (his) teacher's home.
  • Q: nǐ māma zài zuò shénme
          What is your mom doing?
    A: tā zài jiā kànshū
          She is reading (a) book at home.


Grammar 4: 工作 vs 上班 in Chinese · HSK 1

Gōngzuò 工作 and shàngbān 上班 both mean "to work" in Chinese.

When we compare 工作 vs 上班 in Chinese,

gōngzuò 工作 means to do work generally, as opposed to relax

shàngbān 上班 means to do one's work because it's one's job. Shàng 上 means to do something according to a set schedule. And bān 班 means work hours.

So for someone who is a freelancer or someone who has their own business, and they work from home, and plan their own work schedule. It is better to use 工作 instead of 上班:

  • tā zài jiā gōngzuò
    He works from home.

And if someone's job is a teacher, they give classes at a school, and they work according to a set schedule, we can use both 工作 and 上班.

  • Lǐ Lǎoshī zài Měiwén Hànyǔ xuéxiào gōngzuò
    Teacher Li works at Meiwen Chinese School.
  • Lǐ Lǎoshī zài Měiwén Hànyǔ xuéxiào shàngbān
    Teacher Li works at Meiwen Chinese School.


Grammar 5: 上班 / 上学 / 上课 · HSK 2

shàng 上 has the meaning of to start doing something according to  set schedule. Therefore we have the following words:

  • shàngbān
    ("shàng" - work hours) to go to work; to be at work
  • shàngxué
    ("shàng" - school) to go to school; to be under schooling
  • shàngkè 
    ("shàng" - class) to give/take class; to have class; to be in class
Collapse Comments
wyattb79Premium Student December 31, 2023 at 11:41 am

我不是老师, 我是学生。我在学校没上班,我在学校上课。

indakoPremium Student November 1, 2020 at 2:30 am

What is the difference between 作& 做both we right them zuò?

Lacey JoPremium Student December 1, 2020 at 7:25 pm

Pinyin is not the Chinese language – it is the pronunciation helper (kind of like pronunciation notes next to words in an English dictionary) and it can be used for typing on phones/computers but when doing so you still need to select the actual character.
The characters are what matter and what carry the meanings. As you progress, you’ll learn that there are even more characters that have the pinyin zuò – such as 做,坐,作,and 座. Each is a different word with a different meaning.

Alcalay.VPremium Student April 23, 2018 at 8:41 am

Zai can be doing or have been doing . But finally , how do you know which one is it ?

The context will help, especially words that suggest time and state of the action verb.

In Chinese, if we need to express exactly the meaning of “I have been doing something”, we need to say “我一直在……”, yìzhī 一直 is an adverb suggesting “continuously doing; keep doing; remain doing”.

Mohammed HassanPremium Student May 11, 2021 at 7:02 pm

He is studying at his friend’s house. (happening now at the moment of speaking)
He studies at his friend’s home. (usually does this)
how do we know which meaning is used?

MoritzPremium Student January 29, 2018 at 6:30 am

Nihao, Lili,

somewhere I heard that it’s typical to use “zai … ne” for situations like the ones described in this lesson. Can you confirm this?


MoritzPremium Student January 29, 2018 at 11:44 pm

…dear me,
you give the answer in lesson 11! [Thank you!]

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