Location of People and Places

1.4 Location of People and Places

In this lesson, you’ll learn to understand a variety of polite questions and answers about the location of places and people and about where you and other people are from.

The Andersons are at a reception welcoming newly arrived diplomatic personnel to the PRC (People’s Republic of China). Mr. Anderson has just been introduced to Comrade Yeo who politely asks him where he is from. Let’s listen.

Qǐngwèn, nǐ shi nǎrde rén?请问,你是哪儿的人 May I ask, where are you from?
Wǒ shi Dézhōu rén.我是德州人 I’m from Texas.
Qǐngwèn请问 May I ask?

Qǐngwèn is derived from qǐng which means to request, and wèn which means to ask (for information). Qǐngwèn is used as English speakers use excuse me to get someone’s attention in order to ask him a question. Qǐngwèn is NOT the word used for saying excuse me when you step on someone’s foot. For that, you say duìbùqǐ.

Here’s the Chinese phoenetic and abbreviated equivalent for Texas.

Dézhōu德州 Texas

Check your comprehension.

Listen as the conversation continues.

Qǐngwèn, Āndésén Fūren shi nǎrde rén?请问,安德森夫人是哪儿的人 May I ask, where is Mrs. Anderson from?
Tā yě shi Dézhōu rén.她也是德州人 She is from Texas too

Here’s the Chinese phonetic and abbreviated equivalent for Anderson.

Āndésén安德森 Anderson

Here’s the word used for Mrs. in this exchange.

Fūren夫人 Mrs.

Notice the tone sequence high tone, neutral tone. The word fūren is sometimes translated as madam. It’s the normal term of address for a married foreign woman in the PRC.

The word for too in the exchange is


Notice that the word comes right before the verb, just as also would if we translated the sentence She also is from Texas.

Check your comprehension.


In the People’s Republic, a foreigner is known by the standard phonetic equivalent of his full name. His given name is followed by his surname, which is followed by the appropriate title. Mr. David Anderson will be called Dàwèi Āndésén Xiānsheng.

In Taiwan, there is no set way of giving names to foreigners. Sometimes, as in the PRC, a phonetic equivalent of the full name is used (though there are no standard versions). Sometimes, the equivalent is based entirely on the surname. Mr. Anderson, for instance, might be Ān Désén Xiānsheng.

The surname may also be translated, as when King which is the literal meaning of the character 王 wáng. It is also common to base the Chinese surname on the first syllable of the original surname, and the Chinese given name on something else (often the original given name).

In Taiwan, Dàwèi is a common phonetic equivalent for David. Mr. David Anderson, therefore, might be Ān Dàwèi Xiānsheng. Here is a chart of SOME of the Chinese names that might be given to Mr. David Anderson.

PRC: Dàwèi Āndésén Xiānsheng
TAIWAN: Ān Dàwèi Xiānsheng
Ān Désén Xiānsheng


In the PRC, a foreign man is addressed as Xiānsheng, and a married woman as either Fūren or Tàitai, depending on her status. The term fūren is an especially respectful term used to address the wife of a high-ranking official or businessman. Fūren is also used this way on Taiwan. An unmarried foreign woman in the PRC may be addressed as Xiǎojǐe Miss. Married or unmarried women may be addressed as Nǚshì. Nǚshì will be introduced in Module 2. Biography.

The term Tóngzhì Comrade, was originally used only by members of the Communist Party to address other members. It is now the general term of address used by all Chinese adults in the PRC. It should be remembered, though, that Tóngzhì does carry a distinct political implication. Visitors in the People’s Republic, who are not citizens and who do not take part in efforts to realize Communist ideals, will not be addressed as Tóngzhì and should not feel obliged to address anyone else as such.

is an adverb meaning also or too. It always comes before the verb.

Comrade Leo, whose interested in England, has heard that one of the foreigners at the reception is English. Indicating a man across the room, she raises a new topic for discussion. Let’s listen to the exchange.

Tā shi Yīngguo rén ma?他是英国人吗 Is he English?
Bú shi, tā bú shi Yīngguo rén.不是,他不是英国人 No, he is not English.
Tā àiren ne?他爱人呢 And his wife?
Tā yě bú shi Yīngguo rén.她也不是英国人 She isn’t English either.

Here’s the word for husband or wife.

àiren爱人 spouse

Notice that the phrase his wife is formed simply by putting the words for he and wife together. There is nothing in this phrase that corresponds to the English possessive marker’s. Chinese does have a possessive marker de. This marker is not usually used however if the phrase is short and the relationship in question is felt to be very close.

Àiren, which originally meant loved one, sweetheart, or lover, is used in the PRC for either husband or wife, i.e., for spouse.

The possessive phrase tā àiren, his wife (or her husband), is formed by putting the words for he (or she) and spouse together. The marker -de (which you have seen in nǎrde rén) is not needed when the possessive relationship is felt to be very close.

in a negative sentence is usually translated as either. In this case, comes between and the verb. Possible English translations for , in both affirmative and negative sentences, are

Tā yě shi Yīngguo rén.她也是英国人 She is English too. She is also English.
Ta yě bú shi Yīngguo rén.她也不是英国人 She is not English either. She is also not English.

Check your comprehension.

In another part of the room, Mr. Martin, a Canadian representative, is taking to Comrade Jao. Let’s listen to their exchange.

Qingdao, a coastal city, is one of China’s major seaports and resorts. Suppose Mr. Martin didn’t know where Qingdao was. Here’s how he would find out.

Qǐngwèn, Qīngdǎo zài nǎr?请问,青岛在哪儿 May I ask, where is Qīngdǎo?
Qīngdǎo zài Shāndōng.青岛在山东 Qīngdǎo is in Shandong.

Here’s the word for to be in the sense of to be somewhere

zài to be

Zài is the verb to be in/at/on, that is, to be somewhere. Zài involves location, while shì involves identity, to be someone/something.

Check your comprehension.

English uses the same verb to be. Both are talking about identity as in the question Who is she? and for talking about location as in the question Where is she?. Chinese uses two different verbs. Shì for identity and zài for location.

Let’s compare these two questions.

In English, we usually use prepositions such as in, at and on. Along with the verb ‘to be’ in it’s location sense. For example, we say, He lives in New York, He lives on 42nd street, or He lives at number 37. In Chinese, only zài is needed. We can say zài by itself means to be in, at or on.

Now Comrade Jao asks Mr. Martin where his family is from or more literally, where his original home is. Let’s listen.

Qǐngwèn, nǐ lǎojiā zài nǎr?请问,你老家在哪儿 May I ask, where is your family from?
Wǒ lǎojiā zài Āndàlüè. My family is from Ontario.
Wǒ lǎojiā zài Shāndōng.我老家在山东 My family is from Shandong.

Here’s the word for original home

lǎojiā老家 original home

Notice that lǎojiā like àiren is considered closely related to its possessor and forms the possessive without the marker de.

Here’s the Chinese phonetic equivalent for Ontario.

Āndàlüè安大略 Ontario

Check your comprehension.

Literally, lǎojiā is old home (original home, ancestral home, native place), that is, the place you and your family are from. When a Chinese asks you about your lǎojiā, he probably wants to know about your hometown, the place where you grew up. When you ask a Chinese about his lǎojiā, however, he will tell you where his family came from originally. A Chinese whose grandparents came from the province of Guǎngdōng will give that as his lǎojiā, even if he and his parents have spent all of their lives in Sìchuān.

Nǐ lǎojiā zài nǎr? (literally Where is your original home?) asks for the LOCATION of the town you come from. The question is answered with zài plus the name of the province (or state) that the town is located in: Wǒ lǎojiā zài Dézhōu (Āndàlüè, Shāndōng). Nǐ lǎojiā shi nǎr? (translated into English as What is your original home?) asks about the IDENTITY of the town you come from. That question is answered with shi plus the name of the town (or city): Wǒ lǎojiā shi Jiùjīnshān (Qīngdǎo, Shànghǎi). Compare:

Wǒ lǎojiā zài Guǎngdōng.我老家哦在广东 My original home is in Guangdong.
Wǒ lǎojiā shi Guǎngzhōu.我老家是广州 My original home is Guangzhou.

The possessive nǐ lǎojiā, like tā àiren, does not require a possessive marker. However, if more than one word must be used to indicate the possessor, -de is often inserted after the last word: nǐ àirende lǎojiā, your spouse’s original home or where your spouse’s family comes from.

A little later at the reception, Mr. Martin asks to have Comrade Chen Shimin point it out to him. For the answer, you’ll need the word for there. Listen.

nàr那儿 there

Notice that the word for there nàr is just like the word for where nǎr except that is has the falling tone instead of a low tone.

Let’s listen to the exchange.

Chén Shìmín Tóngzhì zài nǎr?陈世民同志在哪儿 Where is Comrade Chen Shimin?
Tā zài nàr.他在那儿 He’s there.

Here’s the word for here

zhèr这儿 here

Notice that both here and there have the falling tone.

Now let’s suppose that earlier, when Comrade Jao said she was from Qingdao, Mr. Martin had asked to have Qingdao pointed out to him on the map on China on the wall. Let’s listen.

Qīngdǎo zài nǎr?青岛在哪儿 Where is Qingdaǎo?
Zài zhèr. It’s here.

Literally of course, zài zhèr is simply It’s here.

Check your comprehension.

Mr. Martin asks the map locations of some other places. Listen and review afterwards.

The following exercise will give you a chance to nail down the words for where, there, and here. At the reception, a meal is about to be served and place cards have been put on the tables showing where everyone is to sit. Here is what it sounds like as people mill around, finding out where they and other people are sitting. Try translating.

So far, we’ve been talking about where places are, that is about fixed locations, and about where people are in sight. When you talk about locations of movable things such as people that are not in sight, you usually ask where they are now.

Here’s the word for now.

xiànzài现在 now

Let’s go back to the reception. Mr. Martin has told Comrade Jao that his wife is not in China yet but will be coming soon.

Here’s the Chinese for Canada.

Jiānádà加拿大 Canada

Now listen for xiànzài now and Jiānádà Canada in the exchange.

Nǐ àiren xiànzài zài nǎr?你爱人现在在哪儿 Where is your wife now?
Wǒ àiren xiànzài zài Jiānádà.我爱人现在在加拿大 My wife is in Canada now.

Don’t be confused by the sequence zài zài. The first zài belongs to the word xiànzài now and second zài is a verb to be somewhere.

Check your comprehension.

At the reception, Mr. Martin told Comrade Jao that his wife would be coming to Beijing in a week or two. A week later, Comrade Jao meets Mr. Martin again. Listen to them live and review afterwards.

In this exchange, the word zhèr here, is used to refer to Beijing. For large places such as provinces or countries, Chinese usually uses the place name rather than the words for here and there.

Here’s an example with a place name.

Let’s review what we have covered in this lesson. In the following live dialogue, Comrade Wang and Mr. Anderson as standing in front of a map of China. Comrade Wang has heard that Mrs. Anderson will be joining her husband in China but doesn’t know that she has already arrived. Let’s listen and review afterwards.

Pronunciation Practice