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I am trying to understand the difference between using いえ and うち. I originally drew the conclusion that うち is used for your own house and いえ for others' houses, but my Japanese teacher said that this is not always true (but did not explain how to use each...).

What is the correct usage of いえ and うち? What difference is implied by using one instead of the other?

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

It is similar to "house" vs. "home". You can say "be at home" but not "be at house". The differences are:

  • いえ: physical house vs. うち: includes the environment, family, returning place, as well as a physical house
  • いえ: neutral about the owner of the house vs. うち: the speaker's own home by default.

Your conclusion is right, but I guess what your teacher means is that, sometimes, you can say things from the second or third person's perspective, and that makes it possible for the first person to say "うち" to refer to a non-first person's home. For example, "うちに帰りなさい" means "go home". And this means "one's own home", but the speaker can say this standing on the point of the view of the second person, meaning the second person's home.

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So, if you are going to a friend's house/home, would you say 友達の**いえ**に行きます? Would it be unnatural to say 友達の**うち**に行きます? –  atlantiza Nov 13 '11 at 23:37
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@atlantiza Both are possible. You can use "うち" from the third person's view (like friend's perspective) as well. Sorry, my answer may not have been clear about it. I fixed it. Because you can change the viewpoint like this, in practice, only the first difference that I mentioned holds. –  user458 Nov 13 '11 at 23:43
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OK, I think I'm starting to get it... Would it be safe to assume that うち generally has a somewhat positive connotation, while いえ is neutral (home vs. house, where in English home seems to be a warmer word)? –  atlantiza Nov 14 '11 at 20:31
    
@atlantiza Yes. That's right. –  user458 Nov 15 '11 at 2:46
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It's also worth noticing that うち is also used when refering to one's own kid, animal, office, etc Our dog = うちの犬 Our kid = うちの子 Our workplace = うちの会社 –  Rodrigo Pará May 8 at 1:22

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