Clarifying ‘向(xiàng)’ vs. ‘对(duì)’: Prepositions of Direction in Chinese HSK2-3

When learning Mandarin Chinese, the nuances of directional prepositions can be particularly challenging for non-native speakers. Among these, ‘向’ (xiàng) and ‘对’ (duì) are often confused due to their overlapping but distinct usages.

Understanding ‘向’ (xiàng)

‘向’ (xiàng) is a versatile preposition that indicates direction or orientation towards something. It can be used in various contexts, from physical direction to more abstract concepts like attitude or approach. Here are some critical uses:

  1. Physical Direction: ‘向’ is commonly used to denote movement towards a specific location or direction. For instance, “他向北走” (tā xiàng běi zǒu) means “He walks towards the north.”
  2. Psychological Direction: It also indicates a figurative direction, such as a person’s intentions, feelings, or actions directed towards something or someone. For example, “她向他表达了感谢” (tā xiàng tā biǎodá le gǎnxiè) translates to “She expressed her gratitude towards him.”
  3. Indicating Object of Interaction: When referring to interactions, ‘向’ can specify the object or recipient of an action. “他向老板提出了建议” (tā xiàng lǎobǎn tíchū le jiànyì) means “He suggested to the boss.”

Understanding ‘对’ (duì)

‘对’ (duì) is another preposition dealing with directionality, but its usage is more specific than ‘向’. Here are the primary uses:

  1. Indicating Face-to-Face Orientation: ‘对’ is often used when two entities face each other. In “他们对坐而谈” (tāmen duì zuò ér tán), meaning “They sit facing each other and talk,” ‘对’ emphasizes the face-to-face aspect.
  2. Response or Reaction to Something: It is frequently used to express a reaction or response to a situation, comment, or action. For instance, “对这个问题,他没有回答” (duì zhège wèntí, tā méiyǒu huídá) means “He did not answer in response to this question.”
  3. Suitability or Appropriateness: ‘对’ can also indicate suitability or correctness about something. “这件衣服对你来说太小了” (zhè jiàn yīfu duì nǐ lái shuō tài xiǎo le) translates as “This piece of clothing is too small for you.”

Key Differences and Tips for Usage

While both ‘向’ and ‘对’ relate to direction, their applications differ significantly:

  • Direction vs. Interaction: ‘向’ often implies a one-sided direction or action towards something, while ‘对’ implies a more reciprocal or interactive relationship.
  • Physical vs. Relational Orientation: ‘向’ is more about physical or abstract direction, whereas ‘对’ emphasizes relational orientation, like face-to-face situations or responses.
  • General vs. Specific Contexts: ‘向’ can be used in a broader range of contexts, while ‘对’ is often more specific to situations involving two parties in a direct interaction or relationship.

Practical Examples

To better grasp the differences, consider these examples:

  • “他向我走来” (tā xiàng wǒ zǒu lái) – “He walks towards me.” (‘向’ indicates the direction of movement.)
  • “他对我笑” (tā duì wǒ xiào) – “He smiles at me.” (‘对’ implies a face-to-face interaction.)


Understanding the distinctions between ‘向’ (xiàng) and ‘对’ (duì) is crucial for accurately conveying direction and orientation in Chinese. While ‘向’ encompasses a broader range of directional meanings, ‘对’ is more specific to face-to-face interactions and responses. By mastering these nuances, learners can significantly enhance their proficiency in Mandarin Chinese, enabling more precise and natural communication.

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