How to use 在、有 and 是 Express Existence

There are three common ways to express the position of an object in a sentence by using the verbs在 zài to be in/on/at, 是 shì to be and 有 yǒu there is/are.

1、在is used to indicate the location or position of something or someone.

Noun/noun phrase(Someone/something) +(verb)+ location word

This pattern is equivalent to the English sentence pattern “something/someone is/are in some location”. Here 在 is a verb meaning not a preposition ‘to be in/on/at/by etc. For example:

Noun/noun location word English meaning
刘老师

Liú lǎoshī

zài

教室里。

jiàoshì lǐ.

Teacher Liu is in the classroom.
你的车

Nǐ de chē

zài

外面吗?

wàimiàn ma?

Is your car outside?
超市

Chāoshì

在不在

zài bú zài

你家旁边?

nǐ jiā pángbiān?

Is the supermarket next to your home?
银行

Yínháng

zài

哪儿?

nǎ’er?

where is the bank?

 

2、有is used to indicate the existence of someone or something in particular place.

location word++Noun/noun phrase(Someone/something)

 

location word Noun/noun phrase English meaning
我家对面

Wǒjiā duìmiàn

yǒu

一个公园。

yígè gōngyuán.

Across from our home, there is a park.
学校里

Xuéxiào lǐ

yǒu

书店。

shūdiàn.

There is a bookstore in the university.
书店旁边

Shūdiàn pángbiān

yǒu

一个银行

Yígè yínháng

There is a bank next to the bookstore.
教学楼前

Jiàoxué lóu qián

yǒu

很多自行车。

hěnduō zìxíngchē.

There are many bicycles in front of the teaching building.

 

3. When we know there is someone or something in a particular place but we want to know more specifically who he/she is or what it is, we use the pattern:

Location word++ Noun/noun phrase(Someone/something)

For example:

location word Noun/noun phrase English meaning
这个包里

Zhège bāo lǐ

shì

什么东西?

shénme dōngxi?

What’s in this bag?
这个包里

Zhège bāo lǐ

shì

手机和钱包。

shǒujī hé qiánbāo.

They are cell phone and wallet in this bag.
孩子前边

Háizi qiánbian

shì

妈妈。

māma.

In front of this kid is his mom.
超市对面

Chāoshì duìmiàn

shì

咖啡馆。

kāfēi guǎn.

Across from the supermarket is a coffee house.

 

Basically we can use these three common ways to express the position of an object in a sentence:

English sentence Chinese sentence
A is location word of B

The park is next to my home.

A is B ’s location word;

公园 我家的 旁边

gōngyuán zài wǒjiā de pángbian.

There is A location word of B

There is a park next to my home.

B’s location word is A

我家 的旁边 公园

wǒjiā de pángbian yǒu gōngyuán.

location word B is A

Next to my home is a park.

B’s location word is A

我家 的旁边 公园

wǒjiā de pángbian shì gōngyuán.

Note : However the difference between 有 and 是: A sentence with 有 only denotes what exists in a certain place, while a sentence with 是 not only indicates that a certain thing exists in a certain place, but also further specifies what that thing is.

A:我家旁边有一个公园.( Wǒjiā pángbiān yǒu yí gè gōngyuán.) There is a park next to my home.

B:是什么公园?(Shì shénme gōngyuán?) What’s kind of that park?/ what’s name of that park?
(B wants to know more information about that park in detail.)

A: (我家旁边)是景山公园。(Wǒjiā pángbiān) shì jǐngshān gōngyuán.

In addition,The object of a sentence indicating existence with 有is usually a general reference, while the object of a sentence indicating existence with 是is usually a specific reference. Therefore, we can say“孩子前边有个人”;but we won’t say “孩子前边有妈妈”. Instead, we should say “孩子前边是妈妈” or “妈妈在孩子前面”.

Now let’s do some exercises, try to translate these sentences into Chinese:

  1. There are many students in the library.
  2. He studies Chinese in Beijing.
  3. The bathroom is next to the bedroom.
  4. Who is on your left?
  5. The bank is across from the post office.
  6. The kid is behind his dad.

Rita Zhang

Rita is a professional Mandarin teacher, has been teaching more than 8 years. She enjoys digging more about Chinese grammar and culture work and helping more learners. Now she is working at the one-on-one online Chinese school TouchChinese.