The locative ‘zài’ sentence pattern: ‘Located object + zài + NPloc (Reference object)’ The initial position of the located object implies that it must be definite, namely it conveys known information, or the referent of the located NP is known to the hearer. The verb ‘zài’ means ‘exist’. The locative NP which holds the end position can be definite or indefinite, but in either case, it represents new information to the hearer. Thus the sentence pattern starts out with a definite located object as the topic and proceeds with the comment about the whereabouts of thelocated object. The communicative function of the sentence is to tell the hearer where the located object is situated at the moment of speaking. For instance:
1a. A: 王老师在哪儿？有他的电话。
Wáng lǎoshī zài nǎr？Yǒu tā de diànhuà.
(Where is Teacher Wang? He has a phone call.)
B: 王老师在外边 ，我去叫他。
Wáng lǎoshī zài wàibianwǒ qù jiào tā.
(Teacher Wang is outside. I’ll go to call him.)
1b. A: 我昨天买来的字典在哪儿？
Wǒ zuótiān mǎilái de zìdiǎn zài nǎr？
(Where is the dictionary that I bought yesterday?)
Zài shūjià shàngbian.
(It is on the bookshelf.)
Xǐzǎojiān zài wòshì yòubian.
(The bathroom is to the right of the bedroom.)
From the dialogue between A and B in (1a), we see that the located object ‘Wáng lǎoshī’ (teacher Wang) is known to the speaker and the hearer, speaker A’s concern at the moment of speaking is the information about where Teacher Wang is located. As for the NPloc ‘wàibian’ (outside), it refers to the outside of the office or the building, so it is definite or known to the hearer, too, but as the place where the located object ‘Teacher Wang’ is at that moment, it is new or unknown information to speaker A. Hence the NP denoting the reference object or place occurs at the end of the sentence as new information. Look at (1c), the sentence is appropriate when the ‘bathroom’ is definite or is supposed to exist in a certain house, like at a friend’s house, and the ‘zài’ phrase gives the information about its position.
 Loar, J. K. (2011). Chinese syntactic grammar: functional and conceptual principles. New York: Peter Lang.