一向 and 一直

Always, Since the Beginning

The words yixiang and yizhi can be roughly translated as “Always,” or “Continuously”. They can be used to translate english sentences like “That house has always been there.”

Deep Contemplation, Chénsī 沉思, my Mantra when learning Chinese 😔

Primary Difference

The primary difference between the two is that while 一直 is flexible in describing any period of continuous time, 一向 is not flexible in this way, and can only be used to describe something has always been the same since the beginning of time or the speakers memory.

Situations where the two are interchangeable:

Therefore when you are describing something that has “Always” Been a certain way, you can use yixiang and likely yizhi interchangeably:

  • 他的态度 一向/一直 很认真。His attitude has always been very serious.
  • 一向/一直 是个好的丈夫,他怎么可能对妻子不忠呢?He’s always been a great husband, why would he possibly cheat on his wife?
  • 中国人 一向/一直 把 红色 视为 吉祥 喜庆 的 颜色。Chinese people have always considered red to be a lucky and joyous color.
  • 云南 的 雨季 一向/一直 来 得 很 突然。Yunnan’s rainy season always comes suddenly.

The two can also both be used with negatives like 没有 or 不. For example:

  • 一向/一直 不爱出去玩。She never really loved going out.
  • 一向/一直 没有学会英文。He never learned English.

Situations where only 一直 is suitable:

Describing situations where the speaker has been enlightened to a new way of thinking

This is a really common use case (I had always thought, 我一直以为) and is usually conveyed to Chinese learners around the HSK1 level:

  • 一直 以为你是美国人。I always thought you were Chinese.

Describing situations that will or should happen in the future:

Because 一直 is not limited to situations that have “always” been a certain way, it can be extended to continuous future actions.

  • 我会 一直 陪着你。I will always be with you. (from now until some point in the future)
  • 一直往前走。Keep walking forward. (from now until some point in the future)

Thank you for reading, I hope that this was informative, and can help you take your Chinese to the next level!

Other resources:

AllSet Learning has a great article highlighting the differences between the two phrases.

Memrise also has a lesson on the topic:

Happy Studying!

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