Skip to content

Mastering Chinese Prepositions: When to Use 从, 离, 向 and 往

If you’ve been learning Mandarin for over a year, you’ve probably come across a situation where you have to choose between using 从(cóng) or 离(lí), or 向(xiàng) or 往(wǎng) when talking about distances, directions, time periods, or the object of an action.

These prepositions can be tricky to differentiate, causing confusion for even higher-level learners. These prepositions can sometimes be interchanged, but not always. But fear not, because we’re here to settle the debate once and for all!

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between 从 vs 离 and 向 vs 往, providing clear examples and practical tips to help you master these prepositions. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, this guide will help you navigate the nuances of Mandarin grammar with ease.

(You can also check out detailed comparisons between 从 and 离 as well as more grammar videos here.)

从 VS 离

When we ask about distances or directions, we usually use the prepositions 从(cóng) and 离(lí) to mean “from.” Although both can form adverbial phrases, there are more differences than similarities between them.

1. You can use 离(lí) to show the distance from a place, time, or objective. It follows the pattern of “A+离+B+ Adjective /Numerical phrase“.

For example:

我家学校五百多米。(Wǒ jiā lí xuéxiào wǔbǎiduō mǐ.) 
My house is over 500 meters from the school.

火车站学校不远。(Huǒchēzhàn lí xuéxiào bùyuǎn.) 
The train station is not far from the school.

2. 从(cóng) shows the beginning point of a process, sequence, distance, or period of time. It can mean “since” in some situations. The structure is “Subject + 从…… + Verb/Adjective“.

For example:

我们学校出发了。(Wǒmen cóng xuéxiào chūfā le.)
We set off from the school.

我们是上周一开始上班的。(Wǒmen shì cóng shàng zhōuyī kāishǐ shàngbān de.)
We have been working [here] since last Monday.

In addition, 从(cóng) is often paired with 到(dào). The structure is “从 A 到 B”. This structure can be used at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence as an adverbial phrase, typically meaning “from… to…” or a similar variation of this pattern.

For example:

今天明天我们放假。(Cóng jīntiān dào míngtiān wǒmen fàngjià.)
From today to tomorrow, we are on vacation.

我们今天明天放假。(Wǒmen cóng jīntiān dào míngtiān fàngjià.)
We will have a break from today to tomorrow.

理想现实需要我们付出很多努力。(Cóng lǐxiǎng dào xiànshí xūyào wǒmen fùchū hěn duō nǔlì.)
In order to go from dreams to reality, we need to put in a lot of effort.

向 VS 往

Many native Chinese speakers have a hard time distinguishing between 向 (xiàng) and 往 (wǎng). This is because these two words can indicate the direction of an action and be used interchangeably in some situations.

For example:

前走200米就到学校了。(Xiàng qián zǒu 200 mǐ jiù dào xuéxiào le.)
Walk forward 200 meters and you will arrive at the school.

前走200米就到学校了。(Wǎng qián zǒu 200 mǐjiù dào xuéxiào le.)
Walk forward 200 meters and you will arrive at the school.

On the other hand, 向(xiàng) can also show the object of an action, while 往(wǎng) cannot be used this way.

For example:

向他点头。(√)(the predicate is a specific movement of the body)
Nod my head towards him.

向他学习。(√)(the predicate is an abstract concept)
往他学习。(×)Study like him.


Mastering the usage of 从, 离, 向, and 往 in Mandarin can be a challenging task, but it is crucial for effective communication. Remember that while there are some cases where these prepositions can be used interchangeably, there are also situations where using the wrong one can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

By familiarizing yourself with the structures outlined above and practicing their usage in context, you can improve your Mandarin skills and avoid common mistakes. So keep practicing, and soon enough, you’ll be using these prepositions like a native speaker!

Let’s practice using these words in a sentence. Fill in the blanks with either 从 (cóng), 离 (lí), 向 (xiàng), or 往 (wǎng).

  1. 我们应该______他学习。We should study like him.
  2. 学校 _______ 我家只有500多米。The school is only a little over 500 meters from my house.
  3. 我_______昨天就病了。I have been sick since yesterday.
  4. _______ 我家到学校走路只有5分钟。Walking from my house to school only takes 5 minutes.
  5. 你一直_______前走一千米就到了。Go straight for 1000 meters and you will arrive [at your destination].

Key:1.向 2.离 3.从 4.从 5.往

You can give yourself a pat on the back if you answered all the questions correctly, and scratch off two common grammar mistakes from your list. You might even impress your Chinese friends in the process!

Online Chinese Tutors

  • 1:1 online tutoring
  • 100% native professional tutors
  • For all levels
  • Flexible schedule
  • More effective
Learn more
Zhang Yu

After graduating from University majoring in Teaching Chinese As A Second Language in 2011, Zhang Yu worked as a book editor about Chinese traditional culture and juvenile reading for 3 years. In 2015, she became a graduate student of Beijing Foreign Studies University, and continued to study international Chinese education. Now she is a Chinese teacher in Confucius institute in Palacký University, Olomouc in Czech Republic.

This Post Has One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top