に vs へ - Do I understand this correctly?

Corrections welcomed, but here is how I've come to think of it, and I'd like to open it up for discussion. (Additional notes included partly for non-native English speakers.) Disclaimer: I'm American, so the following might be complete rubbish to those from England or elsewhere - I have no idea. :P

I've seen several comments on specific sentence discussions that said to think of に as going to a location and へ as going towards a location. While I sort of understood that, it didn't really make sense to me, as "I'm going towards the store" is not something I would ever really say.

I think I've found a better English equivalent, but I'm hoping others will chime in, here.

私は店に行きます。(Watashi wa mise ni ikimasu.) "I'm going to the store."

In English, this could imply:

"I'm going there right now. "

"I'm going directly there. "

"I'm only going to the store. "

"I'm going to buy something from the store."

私は店へ行きます。(Watashi wa mise e ikimasu.) "I'm heading to the store." or "I'm headed to the store." (I'm on my way now. / Same as "heading", but I've already left.)

In English, this could imply:

"I'm going there soon." / "I'm about to leave. "

"I might stop somewhere else on the way. "

"I don't know if I'll buy something or not." (Maybe I'll just browse.)

"I'm not going there to buy something, but to do something else." (E.g., pick someone up.)

I would also use "I'm heading to work" with my family and friends because there is a slight bit of an ambiguity involved; it feels a little more casual. I would probably only use with with my coworkers or boss if I was running a little bit late or had to stop by somewhere else on the way (e.g., to get gas), so they didn't expect me imminently.

At the same time, I think most native speakers use "going to" and "heading to" interchangeably and without thinking about it, as native speakers often do / are wont to do.

I know it's not a direct translation (e.g., missing the verb "go"), but not all translations will be; sometimes, it's the spirit of the meaning that is important for understanding, and that's what I'm after - something to connect my learning with prior understanding. "Heading to" is how it seems to make sense in my head.

There's also the convenience of "heading" sounding like へ. (Although it's pronounced "e" as a particle, I still think it helps to remember.)

Languages are so nuanced! I'm sure there are meanings in Japanese that I'm not getting or that are simply not the same.

I'd love to gather opinions on the topic. Am I right? Wrong? Close? Anyone else have any insights on this?

Thanks, all!

Edit: For clarity's sake, I'm mostly referring to directional usage, but I welcome any info!

May 2, 2018


Sorted by top post

It's worth mentioning that に (ni) is one of the most multi-purpose of particles. It can be used in the same way as へ (e) to denote a destination, but it has a bunch of other uses also. It is best to not focus too strongly on just one of に's many uses when learning the particle or you will have trouble understanding complex sentences that use に in more abstract ways.

Personally, I think it is more practical to focus on understanding WHEN you can use へ in a sentence first. Get that usage nailed down really good so you know how to use this relatively simple particle without worry. There's basically just three ways to use へ, so it won't take very long. Then you will know when it would be reasonable to use へ (but if you wanted to use に instead, the sentence would still work 90% of the time). For all the other times, just use に.

Excerpt from an article on regarding Location Particles:

"へ is similar to に in that it is used with verbs of motion. However, it has a more poetic nuance to it than に does, and its use is very limited compared with に. Use with verbs of motion is only one of に many functions, but へ is used with verbs of motion and little else. Most sentences with a verb of motion and に can use へ instead with little change in the sentence’s essential meaning. However, while に is a rather utilitarian word, へ has a more vague and/or expressive sound.

Tokyo ni ikimasu.

Tokyo e ikimasu.

Both these sentences essentially mean “I will go to Tokyo,” but the first sentence has the sound of a simple statement of what you will do, and the second sentence could be thought of as meaning “I will head for Tokyo” or “I will travel toward Tokyo.”

Along with meaning “to” as in “go to [place],” へ can also be used as “to” as in “welcome to [place].”

Watashi no machi e youkoso!
Welcome to my town!

When welcoming someone TO a location, you will almost always use へ.

Lastly, because of its somewhat poetic nuance, へ is often used in the titles of songs, movies, comics, or novels. In titles, へ can be used to indicate giving or conveying something to someone (often with no verb attached), as well as motion toward a place.

In titles, へ can also indicate figurative motion, such as toward a goal.

For example, 花盛りの君たちへ hanazakari no Kimitachi e (For You in Full Blossom) and テラへ… tera e… (Toward the Terra) are the titles of two manga series (published in the 2000s and the 1970s, respectively), and 最強への道 Saikyo e no Michi (The Path to Power) was the title of one of the Dragon Ball movies."

May 2, 2018

Since examples are useful to help solidify understanding, here are some more examples:

The particle に can be used to mark destinations, locations, or times, as well as more abstract uses.

京都市 に 行きます に 行きます (kyoto-shi ni ikimasu)
I will go to Kyoto.

箱 に あります (hako ni arimasu)
It is in the box.

机の上にあります (tsukue no ue ni arimasu)
It is on top of the desk.

6時に去る (rokuji ni saru)
I leave at 6 o'clock.

Depending on its usage, に can serve the same purpose as the words TO, IN, ON, or AT in English. It marks where or when something is happening (or continues to happen).

The particle へ is NOT as versatile and its use is predominately limited to marking direction of travel. While に should be used when you are talking about a specific destination as in "I am going to Tokyo", へ should only be used to say you are going towards a place as in, "I am going towards Tokyo" or "in the direction of Tokyo". You would use へ to indicate your general direction of travel, rather than the exact end-point of your journey. In contrast, に is used to mark where you end your travels - the destination itself.

東 え いきます。(higashi e ikimasu.)
I am going east.

You would not say "higashi NI ikimasu" because it is not a true "destination". You cannot arrive at the direction "east". But you can travel in that direction. In this case, the direction of your movement should be marked with へ (movement particle), rather than に (destination particle).

So in a strictly grammatical sense, you would want to use へ to mark the direction of travel and you would use に to mark the actual destination of travel. But in modern Japan many native speakers will mix に and へ without regard to the strict grammatical rules. So there is overlap in practical usage that will take time and experience to fully appreciate. For example, it is quite common to see へ being used in sentences that involve specific destinations. The intended meaning is usually intact and understandable, regardless of the particle usage which is why Japanese learning resources mention that you can swap out へ for に in many instances involving destinations.

東京へ行きます。 (Tokyo e ikimasu.)
I go toward Tokyo (direction of travel) or "I will go to Tokyo"

東京に行きます。 (Tokyo ni ikimasu.)
I go to Tokyo (destination) or "I will go to Tokyo"

Both sentences convey the same basic meaning and can be used more or less interchangeably. When translated into English, the nuance between destination vs direction of travel is often times ignored or lost, since it usually does not impact the speaker's intended meaning.

*minor edits to fix typos and clarify a few parts.

May 2, 2018

へようこそ!can be also used when saying something like "Welcome to the blah blah blah show!" on TV.

May 2, 2018

Ahh, thanks so much! So glad I asked and that you responded.

May 2, 2018

My pleasure, I'm glad it was helpful. Japanese is a fascinating language. I still have much to learn about particles.

They can be tricky little devils. :)

May 2, 2018

Wow! Great answers!

Like said above, に is a very versatile particle and doesn't exactly convey direction like へ does. I am not a linguist so my explanation might now be very professional but when thinking of a broad explanation for the role of the particle, I have always thought of に as marking a relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence with the verb actually giving it the appropriate meaning.. Thinking of it like this helped me to keep it separate from へ.

(私は)学校に行きます There is something happening involving "I" and "the school". The verb the は particle and the word order tell me that "I" is the subject that is "going to the school".

(私は)雨に降られた There is something happening between "I" and "the rain". The passive verb tells me that "I" was "rained upon" and the nuance in this usage tells me that "I" was not overly happy about it.

(私は)田中さんの隣に立っています There is something happening between "I" and "Mr. Tanaka". 隣に立っている means "to be standing beside".

(私は)彼にペンを貰いました There is something happening between "I" and "him" involving a pen. The verb tells me that the former received something from the latter.

(私は)彼にペンを挙げました There is something happening between "I" and "him" involving a pen. The verb tells me that the former gave something to the latter.

Expressions of time don't quite follow this logic of mine though..

(私は)一日に一時間ぐらい勉強しています I study for about an hour every day.

三時に来て下さい Please, come at three o'clock

I googled the に particle and found a page with a pretty good comparison of に and へ.

May 4, 2018

Wow, that's a lot of info. Thanks! I'll give it a read in a bit.

I wasn't clear in my post, but I was mostly trying to clarify from a destination standpoint.

Having studied for a couple of years, I do know a little about に, regarding time and some others, but I'm sure there's more to know. Particles have long been the bane of my existence. Lol Appreciate the info!

May 2, 2018

good examples.

May 4, 2018

My university instructor was a native speaker, and also had a Master's degree. I consider her to possess legitimate linguistic authority.

She explained it pretty much the way you did. They are often used interchangeably.

May 2, 2018

I'm so very glad to hear that. Thanks!

May 2, 2018

The short explanation is that へ is more polite way to say than に.

May 2, 2018

Yes, IsakNygren1, What you said is true for some usage of へ. I mean that one of the usages of へ is to express some psychological distance between people. I think that many Japanese speakers choose へ over に to convey additional respect or formality. For example, ご遺族の方へかける言葉が見つからない。Syntactically speaking, both へ and に may work, but the context of respect makes many Japanese choose へ more often than に. However, this is a very subtle aspect of usage, so I am impressed by your point.

May 3, 2018

Nope. That is not true.

May 2, 2018

I like your explanation. Though I would add, the "towards" idea can be useful, if you are heading in the direction of a place but it is not your destination. But to your point, "e" (no japanese keyboard on this computer currently!) can be used in a few different ways that may make more sense to English speakers.

May 2, 2018

It is said that へ has two functions. 1. it supports directions such as north, south, east, wast, countries, etc. 2. it supports movement that you move to somewhere from somewhere. so if you say 店へ行きます, it means that you move to 店 from somewhere. On the other hand, に has only one function. に supports a place you will arrive. So if you say 店に行きます, it means that you just arrive at 店. When you translate 店へ行きます, you may need to mention about the transportation. For example, " I'm going to the store by bus.""私はバスで店へ行きます(向かいます)” And when you translate 店に行きます, you can use "arrive" and "reach" besides "go". For example, " I will arrive at the store at 10:30.""10:30に店に行きます”

Source: NHK放送文化研究所★html ★→.

I'm sorry, my English is not so good. But I hope it's helpful.

September 13, 2018

In addition, Japanese say へ when they want to tell something softly. ”ご遺族の方へ””田中さんへ””私たちの街へ” Japanese say that when they want to show their humble behaviour.

September 13, 2018
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