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I have encountered both 老家 and 家乡 for referring to one's hometown. What are the differences? That is: When should each one be used? When should one or the other be avoided? When can they both be used interchangeably?

EDIT: The terms 故乡 and 祖籍 (or 籍贯), meaning home of my ancestors, have been introduced as additional ways to express the same idea. [ Question title updated. ]

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乡 is village. 家乡 refers to the village that you grew up in and which you may still be staying occasionally. In present times, 乡 is also known as a township. 老家 doesn't usually have such connotation; it just refers to the house you grew up in, and which you no longer stay now. 故乡 and 祖籍 are very formal words. 故 refers to the past. Use 故乡 only when you have uprooted yourself permanently from this place to another. –  Question Overflow Oct 3 '13 at 2:18

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They have the same meaning, but 家乡 is more formal than 老家. I am Chinese; when writing, we use 家乡 in our essays. When speaking, we often use this phrase 我从《PLACE》来, which means I come from《PLACE》.

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Can you include some examples on how 家乡 and 老家 are used? –  Question Overflow Oct 2 '13 at 3:05
    
Are there any situations where one or the other would be "wrong"? –  Andrew Kozak Oct 2 '13 at 4:38
    
Usually in a conversation people ask 你老家是哪里的?' It would sound very strange to ask 你的家乡是哪里?' in a casual conversation. –  user58955 Oct 2 '13 at 5:43
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The example of "老家":我的老家在“Place”。The example of "家乡":我的家乡是“Place”。Like @user58955 says, we use "你的老家是哪里的?"or "你从哪里来的?" when we chatting with friends.@Andrew Kozak Since these two words have the similar meaning, using either "老家" or “家乡” will be both ok in most situations. –  Jing Oct 3 '13 at 0:05
    
@Jing Can you comment on the usage of 故乡? –  Andrew Kozak Oct 3 '13 at 0:55

To me, either of 老家, 家乡, or 故乡 gives similar meaning, any of one doesn't not necessarily mean the home that I'm living in currently, nor other implications. Context can determine the implied meaning. All of them can be used as written expression, and also can be heard often. 故乡 seems to be the most formal among these three.

Another one, 祖籍 (or 籍贯), is quite definite: home of my ancestor, usually being a different one from my current home.

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I have not encountered 故乡. Could you explain the distinctive formality a little more? –  Andrew Kozak Oct 3 '13 at 0:50
    
I don't seem to agree with you. First, you mentioned 故乡, what about "低头思故乡"? Then you pointed out that 祖籍 and 籍贯 were the same thing. Maybe you come from a different background (not the mainland)? –  Terry Li Oct 3 '13 at 4:41
    
低头思故乡 is quite formal, isn't it. Formal in a sense as not so casual. I never say 祖籍 and 籍贯 are the same. Each and every word has something different, at least the form. I was born in Chongqing. –  congliu Oct 3 '13 at 6:18
    
The reason I mentioned "低头思故乡" is that 故乡 can only mean a place where we used to live but not where we live. –  Terry Li Oct 3 '13 at 6:38
    
Not necessarily. –  congliu Oct 3 '13 at 6:47

They sound different to me, although they both mean a place where one grows up. When one says 老家, he does not live there any more. 家乡 does not have such connotations.

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So, something like 我还住在我的老家。 wouldn't be appropriate because the speaker still lives in his hometown? In this case, are you saying that it is better to use 家乡? –  Andrew Kozak Oct 3 '13 at 0:50
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@AndrewKozak I think so. –  Terry Li Oct 3 '13 at 1:01

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