A study of the formation of time adverbs Zai and Zhengzai

Jin Hui Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This study argues that the functions of the time adverb zai can express action progression and state continuance. These two functions stem from different sources. Zai, functioning as state continuance, involves the evolution of {locative verb > time adverb}. This was formed by inducing a metaphor mechanism in the static context. Zai, which performs action progression, evolved from {locative verb > locative preposition > time adverb}. This happened in the dynamic context where serial verb constructions carried out semantic devaluation and the void reference of {zai + demonstrative pronoun} caused the dropping of the locative phrases. The two evolution routes take on typological meaning and are confirmed via cross-linguistic comparison. The time adverb zhengzai was formed in the cause-effect context where the sequence {"zheng "adverb + "zai + VP"verb-object/preposition-object} cannot be explained by {zheng + zai + VP + zhishi}. The "VP" was then turned into the focus of action events, which led to a reanalysis as {"zhengzai adverb+ "VP"verb phrase}.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-212
Number of pages26
JournalLanguage and Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jan 1


  • Time adverb
  • Zai
  • Zhengzai

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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