In this post, we discuss these three prepositions: 朝, 向 and 往.
朝, 向 and 往 all indicate the direction and subject of an action, but they are used in different ways.
1. When 朝, 向 and 往 indicate the direction of an action, there are two possible structures:
1a. Prepositional Phrase led by 朝/向/往 Verb:
the following word/phrase usually indicates location or place. To give a few examples, these words/phrases can be 前, 后, 上边, 右面, 屋子里, 北京, etc.
Examples: 朝前看, 向后退, 往屋子里走, 向北京开进, etc.
2a. Verb Prepositional Phrase led by 向/往.
* Note that 朝 cannot be used in this structure 2a.
** Not all verbs can be used in this second structure with 向/往:
Verb Prepositional Phrase led by 往: the verbs are usually limited to 开, 送, 寄, 运, 飞, 赶, 通, 迁, 带, 派, 逃, etc.; the word/phrase following 往 is usually the final destination of the action.
E.g. 飞往北京, 赶往事故现场, 开往仓库, etc.
Verb Prepositional Phrase led by 向: the word/phrase following 向 is usually a purpose, an object or a destination.
E.g. 走向胜利, 流向大海, 奔向未来, 飞向蓝天, etc.
2. When indicating the subject of an action, only 朝 and/or 向 can be used. 往 cannot be used in this way. The following word/phrase usually indicates a person or in another case, it can be a word/phrase that is a collective group. E.g. 我,你,他们,张老师,公司,学院,组织, etc. And it depends on what kind of action:
2a. When the verb indicates a tangible, physical action, both 朝 and 向 can be used.
2b. When the verb indicates a more abstract action, only 向 can be used. There are two groups of verbs:
Group 1: verbs that have the meaning “to get/obtain from…“: 学习, 请教, 打听, 借, 要, 请假，etc.
Group 2: verbs that have the meaning “to express“: 说, 表示, 解释, 汇报, etc.