When referring to the lateral directions, my language expresses them as "left and right", for example, as follows:

Make sure you look left and right before crossing the street.

As far as I know, English expresses them as "right and left", so I am always confused when writing English.

How much the expression "left and right" sound unnatural? Is it unacceptable in formal documents?

  • 1
    Because we drive on the left in the UK, we're more likely to say look left and right before crossing (the last side you look is the one most likely to contain a car about to hit you as soon as you step off the pavement, so the instruction is often given as look right then left, then right again). But even though Brits are hopelessly outnumbered by Americans on Google Books, our version comes out way on top there. I can't imagine why. Mar 19, 2018 at 18:24
  • 4
    The American expression is look both ways.
    – choster
    Mar 19, 2018 at 18:49
  • Sometimes people will also say "look to the left and right," as in: Any time you come to a place where people may cross or enter your path or a line of traffic meets another, you should look to the left and right sides of your vehicle to make sure no one is coming. (Source: 2017 California Driver Handbook, which shows that the wording may not be driver-side dependent, as @FumbleFingers hypothesized.)
    – J.R.
    Mar 19, 2018 at 19:03
  • 1
    Here is a really interesting ngram on this
    – J.R.
    Mar 19, 2018 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Fumble - Ngrams only lets us input five words, so I couldn't use "Look to the left and right". There are plenty of contexts that may be getting hits here – church choirs sway to the left and right, ice hockey players move the puck to the right and left as they skate down the ice, etc. What I thought was most interesting is that during the 1980s, it didn't seem to matter if you said "left and right" or "right and left". Back up to the start date to 1920 and watch what happens.
    – J.R.
    Mar 19, 2018 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


It does not sound unnatural at all. You can always put the directions in either order. I would never think that "right and left" sounds more natural than "left and right."

  • Her looked her down and up, and said she seemed to be no worse for the fall?
    – TimR
    Mar 19, 2018 at 22:04

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