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I am a beginner, and I do not really understand the difference between に and へ particles. My teacher told that they can be used interchangeably when it comes to indicating "direction" and "destination", however, I have read that they are some exceptions when only of them can be used. Unfortunately, I haven't found an understandable explanation.

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に can be used when you are going 'to', 'at' or 'towards' a location, while へ can be used only when you are going 'towards'. The exceptions exist in case of へ because of this fact; you can't use へ when you are going 'to' or 'at' at a location.

As a side note, this limitation of へ makes it far less popular to use as location marker; に can do it's work, plus other work too.

Even natives prefer to use に all the time.

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They occupy two fundamentally different parts in the grammar and also semantics that only in some cases overlap. “〜へ” is a semantic particle. It always means “towards” or “to” or something in that vein.

“〜に” is a grammatical particle similar to “〜が” and “〜を”. [As well as additionally also an adverbial particle that creates the adverbial form of certain adjectives, but it's best to look at those as distinct], and it does whatever the verb says it does. It just so happens that there is a large number of verbs that assign a meaning similar to “to” or “towards” in English to it, but “〜へ” always means that, irrespective of the verb it's used with, and it can even be used without a verb, such as “母さんへの手紙” to mean “letter to my mother”, it is used with a noun here, “母さんにの手紙” is incorrect since “手紙” is a noun, not a verb and “〜に” only works with verbs.

Now, there are indeed a great deal of verbs that assign “〜に” the meaning of the destination of the direction of movement such as “行く”, “送る” or “来る”, but there also many verbs one might suspect to do that, that oddly don't, such as “歩く”. “駅に行く” is completely fine to mean “go to the station” but “駅に歩く” is not for “walk to the station”. The verb simply doesn't assign it this role. We can say “駅へ歩く” or “駅まで歩く” or “駅に向かって歩く” however since all those again are semantic particles that have meaning regardless of the verb.

There are also many verbs that assign “〜に” and entirely different meaning. “東京にある” means “to be in Tokyo”. “手に持つ” means “to hold in the hand”. “先生に教わる” means “to hear it from the teacher”, “犬に触れる” means “to touch a dog” and “電車に乗る” means “to ride a train” not “to ride towards a train” as one might naïvely expect. One can't say “東京に乗る” to mean “I take a ride to Tokyo.”. It somehow means riding Tokyo itself, which obviously makes no sense.

As you can see the range semantics imposed upon “〜に” by different verbs is quite wide and it has to be memorized on a verb by verb basis. It's even more annoying that most dictionaries do not list this. They simply say that “触れる” means “to touch” which might lead one to naïvely assume that one has to say “犬を触れる”, but that is wrong.

That having been said “〜へ” is rare in my experience. It's particularly common in the “〜への” form to modify nouns but even with verbs where “〜に” cannot be used for the destination or direction. “〜まで” and “〜に向かって” seem to be favored. As a basic illustration:

  1. “へ乗る”: 75 000 hits on Google
  2. “に向かって乗る”: 300 000 hits on Google
  3. “まで乗る”: 1 200 000 hits on Google

While “〜へ” of course needs to be recognized. I honestly see no reason for language learners to ever used it with a verb though with nouns in the form of “〜への” one should almost always use it. “お母さんまでの手紙” feels weird and nonexistent. I know it's often mentioned and compared with “〜に” but it's honestly so rare to encounter it in the wild opposed to “〜まで” and “〜に向かって”

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