Thursday, July 18, 2019

へ vs. に

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, the e へ particle and the ni に particle are similar in that they can be both used to mark a place for a movement verb.
  • gakkou ni iku
    To go to school.
  • gakkou e iku
    (same meaning.)

However, there are differences between e へ and ni に that can be noted.

に行く vs. へ行く

The ni に particle vaguely marks the goal of a verb. When the verb is a movement verb, that "goal" ends up being a place, a "destination."

The e へ particle marks toward which direction an action occurs. It just happens that if you go "toward" somewhere you also end up going "to" somewhere. If you go "toward" the school you're also kind of going "to" the school.

It's not the same thing, but it's practically the same thing, so ni iku に行く and e iku へ行く end up being practically synonymous most of the time.

One difference is that, while ni へ normally marks the destination, the e へ particle doesn't necessarily mark the destination.[方向を表す「に」と「へ」 -, accessed 2019-07-18]

For example:
  • Toukyou ni iku
    To go to Tokyo.
    • Tokyo is our destination.
  • Toukyou e iku
    To go toward Tokyo.
    • If Tokyo is our destination, then the meaning is the same as above.
    • But, maybe, our destination isn't exactly Tokyo, maybe it's somewhere near Tokyo, or somewhere beyond Tokyo, and Tokyo just happens to be in the direction we'll be going.

In particular, the uncertainty that e へ implies is used when we're literally uncertain of where something is going.

If there's a typhoon, for example, we can't just ask typhoon-san: "hey, where ya goin', bro?" We can only guess. So:
  • taifuu ga higashi ni mukatteiru
    The typhoon is headed east.
    • Implying east is its destination.
  • taifuu ga higashi e mukatteiu
    The typhoon is headed toward east.
    • Implying only that east is the direction toward which it's going.

Once again, note how it's basically the same thing, and you could use either. Maybe typhoon-san didn't tell you where it's going, but you guessed its destination. Sure, why not?

The only thing to observe is that when e へ is used, there's emphasis on the uncertainty of the destination, the vagueness of where it's going, and, specially, there's emphasis on the direction of the action, rather than the destination itself.

にある vs. へある

With non-movement verbs, there's a more distinct difference between destination and direction. For example, with the verbs aru ある and iru いる:
  • kore ga koko ni aru
    This is (physically) here.
    • The verb aru ある can mean something is physically present somewhere. The "destination," in this case, is where the thing is.
  • kore ga koko e aru
    This is (physically) toward here.
    • In this case, the e へ particle introduces some vagueness into the sentence. The thing is no longer simply "here," it's now "toward here," in here's general direction.

Although in practice both phrases mean basically the same thing, the normal way of saying is ni aru.

The e aru sentence, if used, would emphasize it's toward here's general direction. Often you know exactly where something is, so vaguely speaking of its direction isn't very useful. But if you wanted to contrast "it's toward here," as opposed to "toward there," then it could be useful.
  • doko ni iru?
    Where are they? (exactly?)
  • doko e iru?
    Where are they? (to the right? To the left? Point the direction for me.)

への vs. にの

Syntactically, one difference is that e へ can be marked by the no の particle and become a no-adjective, but ni に can not. So you can say e no への, but you can't say ni no にの.
  • {gakkou e no} iki-kata
    That way-of-going [that] {is toward the school}.
    How to go to the school.
  • {gakkou e no} michi
    The street [that] {is toward the school}.
    The street that leads to the school.


    There are cases where e へ and ni に are interchangeable, but e へ is preferred for stylistic reasons.

    For example, letters, correspondence, tend to be written as:
    • Kobayashi kara Tanaka-san e
      From Kobayashi to Tanaka.

    Given everything we've seen so far, it would make more sense to use ni に instead. After all, the correspondence is addressed exactly to Tanaka-san, not vaguely toward Tanaka-san. However, the particle that's normally used is e へ instead.

    There are also cases like youkoso ようこそ, "welcome." Saying ni youkoso にようこそ and e youkoso へようこそ both mean "welcome to [some place]." They're both perfectly acceptable.

    However, it seems that e へ was more common in the past, and ni に is becoming more common recently. At least anecdotally.[日本語Q&A 助詞関連(14), Q136 -, accessed 2019-07-18]

    Also anecdotally, it seems younger people tend to use ni に where older people would use e へ.[29 「福山に行きます」と「福山へ行きます」の「に」と「へ」の違いは? -, accessed 2019-07-18]

    So maybe what these anecdotes indicate is that younger people don't know how to use particles right, err, I mean, it's that there's a cultural shift that makes ni に more acceptable in places where e へ would've been used in the past.

    Consequently, using e へ might give off a more traditional or formal feeling, as opposed to a more younger and causal feeling.

    Maybe this explains why the e へ particle still tends to be used at the end of titles of movies, books, songs, etc. even though you could use ni に: it's used like that because it's more traditional, more poetic, and not modern-sounding.
    • mirai e
      Toward The Future. (a vague destination.)
    • kimi e

      Toward You. (an address to the song's message and my feelings! These feelings I feel!)

    Other Functions

    Note that the only function e へ has is to mark the destination or direction of a verb, while ni に has other functions besides that. Therefore, sometimes you can't just replace one by the other.

    For example, the ni に particle can mark the agent in passive voice.
    • nezumi ga neko ni kuwareta
      The rat was eaten by the cat.
    • ?nezumi ga neko e kuwareta
      The rat was eaten toward the cat. (what?)

    When the ni に particle is an adverbial copula for na-adjectives, things are a bit trickier.
    • {kirei ni} odoru
      To dance prettily.
    • ?{kirei e} odoru
      To dance toward pretty. (???)

    While most verbs won't make much sense, like above, some verbs, like naru なる, "to become," can actually make sense in rare occasions since e へ can mark the direction toward which something is changing or becoming.
    • {kanemochi ni} naru
      To become so [it] {is rich}.
      To become rich. ($$$)
    • {kanemochi e} naru
      To become in direction to rich.
      • Some people make the journey from Earth to the Moon, other people make the journey from poor to rich. Same thing, really.

    The same thing happens with verbs like kawaru 変わる, "to change." Changing to, and changing toward, are both perfectly valid uses, but the first one is more normal.

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