When teaching English to my Chinese students, I find that it’s always a bit difficult for them to switch between the simple present and the simple present continuous tenses in English. That is, the different between saying “I go” and “I am going.” Thankfully, this really isn’t so tough in Chinese. In this post we’re going to take a look at talking about ongoing actions in Chinese and give you plenty of examples to start using it. Basically, we’ll learn how to answer the question “What are you doing?” in Chinese.

You are watching: What are you doing in mandarin

Chinese Pronouns


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我在打电话


Before we dive into the grammar, let’s take a moment to review the Chinese pronouns:


我你他她它我们你们他们
wǒnǐtātātāwǒ mennǐ mentā men
I/meyouhesheitweyouthey

For some more practice, you can also review this video on Chinese pronouns and the verb “to be”:

That’s another great thing about learning Chinese – you don’t have to worry about conjugating the verb “to be” like you do in English. It’s just 是 (shì) for everyone! We won’t be using that verb much in this post, but it’s important to know anyways!

How to Ask a Question

Here’s the basic formula for asking a question about ongoing actions:

Subject + 在/正在 + 做/干 + 什么?Subject +zài/zhèng zài +zuò/gàn +shén meWhat is/am/are subject doing?

It may seem a little confusing at first, but it really is quite simple. You can choose either 在 or 正在, and then you can choose either 做 or 干. For example, here are two different ways to ask “What are you doing?”:

你在做什么?nǐ zài zuò shén me

你正在干什么?nǐ zhèng zài gàn shén me

They both mean exactly the same thing, so you can choose one or the other, alternate between the two – whatever works for you! See if you can practice now. What are the two ways you could ask “What is she doing?” Just follow the example above but change the pronoun and you’ve got it! Now let’s look at answering this question.

How to Answer a Question


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他正在睡觉


Answering these types of questions is even easier than asking them. Just follow this simple format:

Subject + 在/正在 + Verb + ObjectSubject + zài/zhèng zài + Verb + Object

Once again, you can use 在 or 正在 in the answer. It doesn’t really matter, but typically you answer in the same format that the question was in. Here’s an example for you to see it in action:

我在学习中文wǒ zài xué xí zhōng wénI am studying Chinese.

Whoa! 你很棒! That means “You’re awesome!” and it’s true, because you’re learning Chinese with us. Isn’t it easier than you thought? Let’s learn some common activities that you might answer such a question with.

Daily Activities


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我们在吃饭


Here’s a list of 20 daily activities that you should definitely memorize. Chances are one of these will be your answer to the question “What are you doing?”, as we spend most of our time doing these things!


吃饭工作学习开会看电视听音乐做运动玩游戏上网看书打电话骑自行车跳舞唱歌做饭看电影洗衣服买东西做作业睡觉
chī fàngōng zuòxué xíkāi huìkàn diàn shìtīng yīn yuèzuò yùn dòngwán yóu xìshàng wǎngkàn shūdǎ diàn huàqí zì xíng chētiào wǔchàng gēzuò fànkàn diàn yǐngxǐ yī fúmǎi dōng xīzuò zuo yèshuì jiào
eatworklearn/studyhave a meetingwatch TVlisten to musicdo excerciseplay gamessurf the Internetread a bookmake a phone callride a bikedancesingcookwatch a moviewash clothesshop/go shoppingdo homeworksleep

Examples and Practice

Now let’s put this all together! Here are a few more examples for you to study and then a practice activity for you to try at home:

她在做什么?tā zài zuò shén meWhat is she doing?

她在听音乐tā zài tīng yīn yuèShe is listening to music.

你们正在干什么?nǐ men zhèng zài gàn shén meWhat are you doing?

我们正在开会wǒ men zhèng zài kāi huìWe are having a meeting.

他们在干什么?tā men zài gàn shén meWhat are they doing?

他们在吃饭tā men zài chī fànThey are eating.

Now it’s your turn! See if you can translate the following examples into Chinese for some practice:

What are you doing?I’m doing homework.

What is he doing?He is riding a bicycle.

See more: Can You Start A Sentence With Maybe Vs, Maybe And May Be Are 'Driving Me Crazy'

What are they doing?They are playing a game.

I’m sure you can do it! We’ve got plenty of other resources to help you learn Chinese, such as a free word of the day delivered right to your inbox. Learning a language is never easy, but with persistence and the right attitude you’ll definitely see results. Plus, now is the perfect time to make studying a language your New Year’s Resolution!