Where people are staying

2.1 Where people are staying

In this lesson, we will learn to understand question and answers about where we are staying and a few polite phrases used in greetings.

Suppose Ms. Novak is a service officer who just arrived in Beijing and staying at the Beijing hotel. Here’s how she might be asked where she is staying and how she would reply.

Qǐngwèn, nǐ zhù zai nǎr?请问,你住在哪儿 May I ask, where are you staying?
Wǒ zhù zai Běijīng Fàndiàn.我住在北京饭店 I’m staying at the Beijing Hotel.

Here’s the word for to stay at.

zhù zai住在 to stay at

The second syllable in zài in the compound zhù zai to stay at is the same as the word zài to be at which was introduced in the last lesson.

Here’s the word for hotel.

Fàndiàn饭店 hotel

The verb zhù, to live, or to reside, may be used to mean to stay at (temporary residence) or to live in (permanent residence).

Zhù zai nǎr literally means live at where. The verb zài, to be in, a, on, is used here as a preposition, at. It loses its tone in this position in a sentence. (The use of zài as a preposition is treated more fully in Unit 2.2 – Houses, Work and Addresses)

Fàndiàn has two meanings restaurant and hotel (a relatively large hotel with modern facilities). Literally, fàndiàn means rice shop.

Check your comprehension.

With most verbs, you can say yes to a question by repeating the verb as a short answer. Since a short answer by itself sounds abrupt in Chinese, it’s usually followed by a full sentence. The short answer acts as a sort of preface to what follows. There are some verbs that may not be repeated as short answers. The verb zhù zai is one of them. To give a short yes answer to a question with zhù zai, you simply use the verb shì.

Listen for shì yes in the following exchange.

Nǐ zhù zai Mínzù Fàndiàn ma?你住在民族饭店 Are you staying at the Nationalities Hotel?
Shì, wǒ zhù zai Mínzù Fàndiàn.是,我住在民族饭店 Yes, I’m staying at the Nationalities Hotel.

The word mínzù means nationalities in the sense of ethnic groupings rather than countries. The verb zhù zai will also be used in asking in what city a person is living in. Although not for anything larger such as a province.

Here’s the word for no.


Since bù zhù zai can’t be used for a short answer, the word zhù zai is omitted and is used alone. The short answer is of course followed by a full sentence answer.

Check your comprehension.

You may have noticed that with the city name, the verb zhù zai is translated as to live in rather than to stay at. Someone who already knows that you are staying at a hotel will want to ask which hotel you are staying at.

The word for which is

něige哪个 which

Listen for něige which in this exchange.

Nǐ zhù zai něige fàndiàn?你住在哪个饭店 Which hotel are you staying at?
Wǒ zhù zai Běijīng Fàndiàn.我住在北京饭店 I’m staying at the Beijing Hotel.

Check your comprehension.

You may have recognized the bound word něi from an expression you had in earlier lessons. Něige is the question word which. In the compound něiguo, you found the bound word něi-, which was attached to the noun guó. In the phrase něige rén, which person, the bound word něi- is attached to the general counter -ge.

Listen for Něige rén in the following live exchange.

Ms. Novak, looking at a newspaper photograph of a labor day celebration, asks her Chinese companion to identify some officials she doesn’t recognize.

On it’s own, without a noun like hotel or person accurate, the word něige may be translated which one. For instance, the question in the last exchange could have been simply Něige shi Měi Tóngzhì which one is Comrade Mei.

Listen to the two questions compared.

Něige rén shi Měi Tóngzhì?哪个人是美同志 Which person is Comrade Mei?
Něige shi Měi Tóngzhì Which one is Comrade Mei?

In any situation less than personal and taking about a picture of strangers, it’s considered rude to used the general counter -ge when referring to adults. Instead you use the polite counter for persons – wèi.

Listen to the Chinese for ‘which comrade’.

něiwèi Tóngzhì哪位同志 which comrade

Now suppose that Ms. Novak is attending the labor day celebration in person. Let’s listen.

Něiwèi shi Zhāng Tóngzhì?哪位是张同志 Which one is Comrade Zhang?
Tā shi Zhāng Tóngzhì.他是张同志 She is Comrade Zhang.

Notice that Ms. Novak asks a question using něiwèi alone with no noun after it. This is the usual pattern. Since the counter -wèi is only used with persons, the combination něiwèi can only mean which person even without the noun rén.

Check your comprehension.

You’ll remember that we called your attention to the low tone of the syllable něi meaning which. The word for that has the falling tone syllable nèi.

Listen to that comrade.

nèiwèi Tóngzhì那位同志 that comrade

The only difference between něiwèi Tóngzhì which comrade and nèiwèi Tóngzhì that comrade is the difference between a low tone and a falling tone. The same is true of the difference between nǎr where and nàr there. This is a good lesson in the importance of tones.

Listen to this example.

Něiwèi shi Gāo Tóngzhì?哪位是高同志 Which one is Comrade Gao?
Nèiwèi shi Gāo Tóngzhì.那位是高同志 That one is Comrade Gao.

The following sentences will give you more practice with this tone distinction between questions with něi which and statements with nèi that.

Now that you have the words for which and that, we’ll want the word for this. Here it is.

zhèige这个 this

It may be helpful to remember that the answers zhèige this, zhèr here, nèige that and nàr there are all in the falling tone. While the questions něige which? and nǎr where? are both in the low tone.

Ms. Novak is in the lobby of the nationalities hotel talking to someone she’s just met there. Listen and review afterwards.

Nǐ zhù zai zhèige fàndiàn ma?你住在这个饭店吗 Are you staying at this hotel?
Bù, wǒ bù zhù zai zhèige fàndiàn.不,我不住在这个饭店 No, I’m not staying at this hotel.

The word zhèige this, an answer you use to refer to something really close, not to something farther away that you are just pointing to.

Now let’s review all three specifying words which, this and that. See if you can tell them apart in the following isolated sentences.

Mr. Bower, one of Ms. Novak’s colleagues, has taken her to meet Comrade Jiang, a Chinese diplomatic official. Here’s the Chinese phonetic equivalent of the word Novak.

Nuòwǎkè诺瓦克 Novak

Here’s what Comrade Jiang and Ms. Novak might say to each other after being introduced.

Jiāng Tóngzhì, Nín zǎo.将同志,您好 Comrade Jiang, Good morning.
Zǎo. Nuòwǎkè Nǚshì! Nín hǎo.早。 诺瓦克女士!您好 Good morning. Miss Novak! How are you?
Wǒ hěn hǎo.我很好 I’m very well.

Here’s the word used to say Good Morning.

Zǎo Good Morning

Literally, the word zǎo means early. By itself, it’s only used in informal situations between friends. Otherwise you either add the word Nín or mention the person’s name along with it. Notice that the person’s name may come before or after the greeting and is pronounced as an independent exclamation.

Here’s the word used to translate Miss.

Nǚshì女士 Miss

An unmarried foreign woman living in the PRC might be addressed as either Xiǎojiě or Nǚshì. Actually, the title Nǚshì can be used to refer to a married woman as well. Naturally it follows her own surname not her husband’s. Traditionally, the word Nǚshì, is a formal respectful term which suggests that the woman addressed is well-educated.

Notice that in this exchange, the greeting nín hǎo how are you, apprears in an alternate form without a question marker.

Check your comprehension.

Here’s the word for very.

hěn very

Listen to Comrade Jiang’s greeting with Ms. Novak’s response.

Notice that in idiomatic English, the sentence Wǒ hěn hǎo is translated I’m very well not I’m very good.

Listen as the conversation continues.

Qǐngwèn, nǐ shi Měiguo nǎrde rén?请问,你是美国哪儿个人 May I ask, where are you.from in America?
Wǒ shi Jiāzhōu Jiùjīnshān rén.我是加州旧金山人 I’m from San Francisco, California.

Here’s the Chinese for San Francisco.

Jiùjīnshān旧金山 San Francisco

Literally the name Jiùjīnshān means Old Gold Mountain. If you want to pinpoint where someone is from within a larger area, you put the name of a larger area first followed by the smaller. In English, we do it the other way around.

Listen for the sequence larger area – smaller area.

Notice that the answer in this exchange mentions both California and San Francisco. Although you can just answer simply Wǒ shi Jiùjīnshān rén I’m from San Francisco. In general, a question mentioning both a larger and smaller area, will be answered with both areas.

Listen and review.

Now listen to a conversation reviewing what we have learned in this lesson. During your visit to Comrade Jiang’s office, Ms. Novak and Mr. Bower we’re also introduced to a Comrade Fang. A few days later, Ms. Novak meets Comrade Fang again. Listen to their conversation.

Pronunciation Practice