● Right or left? When the teacher says:

"If you look at the diagram on the left hand side, you will solve this question!"

Is it the teacher's left hand side or students' left hand side?

Imagine, you are in a position like this:

Where is right? Where is left? (You can use the colours).

The example I have in mind is this Cardiac Muscle: Function & Main Parts – Histology | Lecturio. There is a speaker off-screen. Referring to this image, he says

enter image description here
And cardiac muscle has structures called intercalated disks, which if you look at the diagram on the left-hand side, it explains what these intercalacted disks actually are and what their functional role is.

  • 3
    I firmly believe that this is a non-issue in a web presentation (or similar) where there is no speaker between the audience and the board/beamer. Why would the presenter say "right" when he means "left" and has the same perspective (in front of a screen) as the audience? The example picture with the teacher is misleading, because apparently that is not OP's actual problem.
    – Ian
    Aug 16, 2018 at 7:07
  • 1
    @Ian - Initially, I thought that, too. But now I wonder if the lesson about the intercalacted disks got the OP wondering about whether or not saying "on the left" would be okay when an instructor is facing the audience.
    – J.R.
    Aug 16, 2018 at 9:30
  • 1
    when we take that second picture, there would be a similar source for confusion if we talked about the sides of the heart that is depicted. the anatomically left side could be right in the picture (patient-doctor perspective shift).
    – dlatikay
    Aug 16, 2018 at 13:43
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    Think about it from the perspective of the teacher. When the teacher wrote the material it was from the same perspective as the students. Whenever the teacher looks at the material it is from the same perspective as the students. I'm not seeing any reason for the teacher to reference it from any other perspective. Aug 16, 2018 at 17:43

5 Answers 5


When somebody is standing in front of a crowd and they say left or right, it's almost always in reference to the perspective of the crowd that is being addressed.

A teacher may turn and point to the blackboard, indicated something to the left or right as they are now facing.

In theatre, if an actor or director wants to talk about things from the perspective of people on the stage facing the audience, they use the phrases stage left and stage right (from Merriam-Webster). Note that that is not spoken to the audience; it's for stage direction behind the scenes and during rehearsals. The audience uses the normal words.

So, the assumption is normally the perspective of the audience.

But if it's unclear, clarifying language can be used.

  • 2
    I'm with you up to the discussion of actors. If there's an audience present, the actors will generally be speaking lines so left and right will be from the perspective of their characters (and the director won't be speaking); if they're in rehearsal, the default is generally stage-left/right, and house left/right is used for the audience's perspective if required. I don't think you need the digression for your main point, anyway. (It might be worth pointing out that teachers occasionally make mistakes, though.)
    – 1006a
    Aug 16, 2018 at 2:15
  • Yes, I understand. But you'll virtually never hear just plain left/right during rehearsal, only stage- or house- directions, and if the prefix is left off the assumption will probably be that stage-whatever is what's meant, not house-whatever. So it's not a great example for your point.
    – 1006a
    Aug 16, 2018 at 2:49

In real life, it would be strange for an instructor to say something like this. Most people would keep the difference in perspective in mind and specify whose perspective they are speaking from.

Take a look at the diagram on your left.

It does happen that instructors sometimes forget about the perspective difference and say something as in your example. But it is normally an oversight and its ambiguity can sometimes be clarified through context or simply asking.

  • But what about when you're watching a video, and both right and left sides have some similarities, so the person's words do not indicate the right side of the picture or the left side of it! I think this is confusing & I totally disagree with you.
    – a.RR
    Aug 15, 2018 at 21:29
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    @AmirhoseinRiazi Your described situation sounds tricky, as if the lecture is recorded in a room where the lecturer is by themselves, it is possible they forget there will be audiences. As Em has said, there is no convention, so it is hard to tell.
    – Eddie Kal
    Aug 15, 2018 at 21:32

I think the students will look at it form their perspective. Unless something warns them, the audience will likely look at it from their perspective. An experienced orator would be aware of this and pick their words carefully.

To clarify, the teacher (as he stands in the picture, facing the class) might say my left-hand side (yellow), or your left-hand side (red).

As I suspected, there is a distinction. I don't know anything about hearts and muscles, but that doesn't matter. The speaker is using the middle of the image to distinguish the left and right sides. As a casual observer, I understand his words to mean that he is talking about the purple and yellow figure. Whether or not it is accurate is not a matter of English usage.

There is also the possibility that he is referring to the entire image. Before the video cut to this image, he was standing to the right of the image, facing the viewer. If in his mind he does not know that the video will cut to this image, and he has a live audience in mind, then referring to the left-hand side would be with respect to the audience's perspective and it would include the entire image.

  • But what about when you're watching a video, and both right and left sides have some similarities, so the person's words do not indicate the right side of the picture or the left side of it! I think this is confusing.
    – a.RR
    Aug 15, 2018 at 21:27
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    Is that the true example you have in mind? Please edit your post to include that, with a live example if you have it (or make one up). I don't understand your example as you've written it. I'm guessing the speaker would have chosen a better phrase, or there is some rough distinction (like the middle of the image, page, etc).
    – Em.
    Aug 15, 2018 at 21:34
  • Ok..., I've already checked it out. (01:00, Both sides of the picture are parts of the intercalated disks, and in fact none of them describes the functional role of these disks, all in all it sounds a little weird to me.)
    – a.RR
    Aug 15, 2018 at 21:57

In that case it should be clear it is the left as seen by the audience.


Because when having a look at the diagrams, which are on a 2D surface, there is no difference between the speaker perspective and the audience perspective.

This is clearly an other matter when designing elements which are in the 3D world, as the perspective might be different. But the speaker should instinctively refer to the same side, because of this.


If you look at the diagram on the left-hand side...

If there is only one diagram, this phrase refers to the left-hand side of the diagram:

However, if there are two diagrams, the phrase refers to the diagram on the left:

So, if you look at the first illustration on the left-hand side, you can see the carbon ring in the molecule. If you look at the second illustration on the left-hand side, you can see the normal foot and arch.

As other answers have pointed out, most often, this is from the perspective of the viewer.

Therefore, in your example,

...if you look at the diagram on the left-hand side, it explains what these intercalacted disks are.

That is referring to the diagram with the purple and yellow columns:

  • Thank you for your time and attention. I have another question. Consider, I stand in front of the audience, if I point out this purple & yellow columns with my right hand, it's still logical to say that "if you look at the diagram on the left-hand side..." –
    – a.RR
    Aug 16, 2018 at 7:29
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    @AmirhoseinR - Only a self-centered speaker would say "left" when wanting the entire audience to look to their right. Sometimes a speaker might say "my left," but that would invariably be accompanied by a hand gesture showing which side of the diagram is being referenced.
    – J.R.
    Aug 16, 2018 at 7:41

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