How to Use 着 zhe in Chinese Grammar

October 17, 2023

In any language, there are words that can be used in all sorts of ways. As frustrating as that may be to language learners, a little bit of guidance goes a long way in learning to decode these various usages.

zhe is a perfect example in Mandarin. Not only does it have a whole host of uses, but it has a separate pronunciation that comes with new uses of its own.

Never fear!

We are going to walk through the many ways of using 着 zhe in a sentence. By the end, you will be able to use this word with ease.

How to Use 着 zhe in a Sentence

We typically use 着 zhe in a sentence to imply a continuous action.

Verb + 着 zhe

When you pair 着 zhe with a verb, you are saying that the action that verb represents is going on for a while. However, there is some nuance there. Let’s take a closer look.

Using 着 zhe to Express a Command in Chinese (Imperative Case)

We all use commands when requesting someone do something: “Sit down please!” “Come here!”

If we add 着 zhe to our command, we are implying that the action we are requesting will be done for an extended period of time. This is a command for a sustained action.

Verb + 着 zhe

Ex: 你开着灯!
Nǐ kāi zhe dēng!
Keep the light on!

We commonly use 着 zhe as a command when the listener will need to stay in a position or hold a posture. So, you will see these pairings a lot: 坐着 zuòzhe (sit), 拿着 názhe (hold), 看着 kànzhe (watch), etc.

Using 着 zhe to Express a Continuous Aspect in Chinese

One of the most common uses of 着 zhe in Chinese grammar is to imply a continuous action. This is why it is often taught as the equivalent of “ing” in English. However, that’s not the best way to think of this grammar feature, as there are other ways to create this “-ing” English verb.

Instead, consider this: When you pair 着 zhe with a Chinese verb, you are implying an action is continuing passively. More to the point, you are typically talking about the state of that item, not necessarily the action.

Ex: 她戴着她的新帽子.
Tā dàizhe tā de xīn màozi.
She is wearing her new hat.

The verb “to wear” isn’t an active verb. She will still be wearing this dress as she heads to work, eats her lunch, and goes out with friends in the evening. It is a passive action that is happening all throughout her day.

Ex: 他一整天都开着空调.
Tā yī zhěng tiān dū kāizhe kòngtiáo.
He left the air conditioning on all day.

Again, the air conditioning was left on. No one is actively turning it on or off. It is just running. So the state of the air conditioner is “on”, rather than “off”.

This expression of the state of things also allows us to talk about location. We can use 着 zhe to express where something is.

Location + Verb + 着 zhe

Ex: 床上躺着一只猫.
Chuángshàng tǎngzhe yī zhǐ māo.
There is a cat laying on the bed.

In this sentence, you see that 着 zhe is paired with the verb 躺 tǎng. If we apply the idea of continuous action, we can see how this works: The cat is continuously laying on the bed.

However, take a close look at this next example:

Cān zhuō shàng fàng zhe yí gè lánméi pài.
There is a blueberry pie on the table.

In this case, 着 zhe is paired up with 放 fàng (to put). However, someone is not continuously putting this pie on the table. The translation here is that, at one point, the pie was put on the table. It is now still there, existing in that location.

zhe vs. 在 zài

As mentioned before, there is more than one way to say that an action is continuing over time. 在 zài is one of the most common ways to do this.

In Chinese grammar, 在 zài also expresses that an action is in progress, and that action is often happening now. Remember how 着 zhe was used for more passive action, or to express the passive state of something? Well, 在 zài is the Chinese character that expresses the active action. In some cases, sentences using 在 zài will also include a time frame or time limit to express both the ongoing action and when it will end.

Ex: 她们在开会. 请你过一个小时再来.
Tāmen zài kāihuì. Qǐng nǐ guò yíge xiǎoshí zài lái.
They are in a meeting. Please come back in one hour.

zài can also be used to:

  • Imply something is dragging on. Ex: 他还在讲. Tā hái zài jiǎng. He is still rambling.
  • Express that something will be completed as soon as possible. Ex: 他在摆桌子呢. Tā zài bǎi zhuōzi ne. He is setting the table now.
  • Imply something happens regularly or habitually. Ex: 又在下雪了. Yòu zài xiàxuě le. It is snowing again.
  • Describe someone or something’s characteristics. 他又在耍小孩子脾气. Tā yòu zài shuǎ xiǎo háizi píqi. He is behaving like a child again.

However, there are similarities between 着 zhe and 在 zài in Chinese grammar. One is obvious: They both, in one way or another, imply continuous action. The other similarity comes with what neither can do: Neither can be paired with stative verbs, like 明白 míngbai (to understand), 认识 rènshi (to know or recognize), 喜欢 xǐhuan (to like), or with transitional verbs, like 到 dào.

But enough about 在 zài. Let’s return to 着 zhe and its other usages.

Using 着 zhe as a Preposition in Chinese

There are a few ways to create prepositions in Chinese. However, there are only a few verbs that can team up with 着 zhe to do so.

Ex: 沿着这条路一直走.
Yánzhe zhè tiáo lù zhí zǒu.
Go straight down this road.

Nǐ yào zhàozhe wǒ shuō de zuò.
You need to follow what I said.

Other verbs that pair up with 着 zhe are: 对着 duì zhe (on/toward), 当着 dāng zhe (in front of/in the presence of), 向着 xiàng zhe (toward / facing), etc.

How to Use 着 zhe in a Sentence to Indicate a Degree

You will likely have used Chinese words like 很 hén and 真 zhēn before an adjective to emphasize the degree of that adjective. However, let’s say we want to exaggerate things a bit. That’s where we use this Chinese sentence structure:

Adjective + 着呢 zhene

Ex: 我忙着呢.
Wǒ máng zhene.
I’m REALLY busy.

This is most used in spoken Chinese, rather than written Chinese, as a way to imply excessiveness. I’m not just busy. I’m, like, SUPER busy.

    NOTE: You can also pair adjectives with 着 zhe to imply that the adjective is continuous, just as we do with verbs.
    Ex: 天还黑着她就离开家上班去了. Tiān hái hēi zhe tā jiù líkāi jiā shàng bān qù le. It was still dark when she left home to go to work.

How to Use 着 he in a Sentence to Indicate Two Simultaneous Actions in Chinese

It’s common for us to be doing two things at once. Perhaps you’re listening to music as you run, or you’re scrolling through Instagram as you wait for a friend. In those scenarios, one action is more passive (ie: listening to music or waiting), while the other action is more active. So, in Chinese sentences, we can use 着 zhe to express doing two things at once:

Verb 1 + 着 zhe + Verb 2

In this Chinese grammar structure, “Verb 1 + 着 zhe” is the passive action or state of being, while Verb 2 represents the more active action.

Ex: 她站着工作.
Tā zhànzhe gōngzuò.
She stands as she works.

Tā wéixiàozhe zǒu jìnlái.
He walked in smiling.

In both of these examples, we note the passive (and continuous action) first, and then we follow it with the active action.

How to Use 着 he in a Sentence to Indicate a Change to a Repetitive Action

Let’s say you’re doing something (perhaps continuously or over and over), when suddenly something else happens. That’s where this Chinese grammar structure comes in handy:

Verb + 着 Zhe + Verb + 着 Zhe + 就 Jiù + … + 了 Le

Ex: 她刚才走着走着就撞到门上了.
Tā gāngcái zǒuzhe zǒuzhe jiù zhuàngdào mén shang le.
She just ran into a door while she was walking.

Zhè běn shū tài wúliáole, tā dúzhe dúzhe jiù shuìzháole.
The book was so boring that he fell asleep reading it.

In these sentences, repeated or continuous actions are interrupted by a change in status. In one, a woman’s walking is halted by a collision with an unexpected door. In another, a man’s ongoing reading is cut off by sleep.

How to Use 来着 láizhe

So far, 着 zhe has helped us emphasize a continuous action in Chinese grammar. When paired with 来 lái, though, we can now express that an action has already happened.

Sentence + 来着 láizhe

Ex: 今天早上有人煮咖啡来着.
Jīntiān zǎoshang yǒurén zhǔ kāfēi láizhe.
There was someone making coffee this morning.

那电脑昨天还在这儿来着, 现在怎么找不到了?
Nà diànnǎo zuótiān hái zài zhè'er láizhe, xiànzài zěnme zhǎo bù dàole?
The computer was still here yesterday. Why can’t I find it?

The ongoing process of making coffee was completed this morning. The computer existed in that spot yesterday, yet I’m unable to find it today. In both scenarios, the actions continued and then came to their conclusion. We know that thanks to 来着 láizhe.

    NOTE: We can also use 来着 láizhe in Mandarin to say, “I told you so! “我说什么来着!” “Wǒ shuō shénme láizhe!”

How to Use 着 zháo in Chinese Grammar

Alas, it is now time to reveal how to use the 多音字 duōyīnzì of 着 zhe: 着 zháo.

As a verb, 着 zháo means to touch or come into contact with. It is also frequently paired up with the word 睡着 shuìzháo, which means “to fall asleep”.

For now, though, let’s focus on how 着 zháo is used in Chinese grammar.

Using 着 zháo as a Resultative Complement

In this Chinese grammar structure, we want to express that an action has reached its purpose. Whatever we’ve done has succeeded. The structure is the same as with 着 zhe:

Verb + 着 zháo

Ex: 我找着了.
Wǒ zhǎozháole.
I found it.

Wǒ zhōngyú jiàn zháo nǐle.
I finally met you.

You might notice that you could also use 到 dào instead of 着 zháo in these sentences. That’s true! However, in spoken Chinese, the latter, 着 zháo, is used a lot, especially in the northern regions of China. So, it’s worth knowing both versions of this Chinese grammar point!

Using 着 zháo as a Potential Complement

In order to express whether you have the ability to do something or not, you can opt for this Chinese grammar structure:

Verb + 得着 dézháo / 不着 bùzháo

Is your ability up to the challenge or not?

Ex: 太高了, 我够不着.
Tài gāole, wǒ gòu bùzháo.
It’s too high, I can’t reach it.

Xiànzài mǎi dé zháo zhèyàng de yīfúle.
I can buy such clothes now.

Try as I might, I don’t have the ability to reach whatever it is I need. I’m now able to buy these kinds of clothes. In each case, I want to express whether I do or don’t have the ability to do something.

zháo vs. 了 liǎo

Let’s look at that previous sentence structure again, this time using 了 liǎo:

Verb + 得了 déliǎo / 不了 bùliǎo

Again, we are talking about ability. However, unlike when we use 着 zháo in Mandarin, 了 liǎo in Mandarin focuses on the possibility or impossibility of something. Often, in these scenarios, there are outside factors that will determine whether something happens or not.

Ex: 她来得了来不了?
Tā lái deliǎo láibuliǎo?
Will she be able to come or not?

It may not be up to the girl in question and her ability, but up to external factors that aren’t in her control.

So while these two Chinese grammar structures look similar, their intended meanings help us determine which to use.


There is a lot to wrap your head around when it comes to 着 zhe and 着 zháo. Yet if you practice each Chinese grammar point we’ve listed here, you’ll have a whole new set of tools to get you through future conversations.

Just as in any language, it’s all about nuance. What do you want to say? What are you implying when you say it? Consider these questions and put 着 zhe and 着 zháo to good use!

Looking for more Chinese grammar deep dives? Check out these articles:

Let us know what other Chinese grammar points we can help clarify!

About the Author

Alexandra Sieh became fascinated by the Chinese language (and especially its written characters) during her 6+ years living and traveling in China.

Alexandra Sieh cultureyard author