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Difference between 'turn right', 'turn to the right', and 'turn to his/her right'.

I read this post already, but it refers to giving indications.

My question refers to another situation. Let's imagine a man is sitting on a bench. Then another man comes and sits beside him on his right. If the first man turns to see who sat beside him, what will we say?

A) The man turned right to see who had sat beside him.

B) The man turned to his right to see who had sat beside him.

C) The man turned to the right to see who had sat beside him.

Needless to say, if there are better options to describe this action, do let me know!

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  • I would say he 'looked round' (if we already know that the newcomer is on his right). Sep 19, 2022 at 14:08

2 Answers 2

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All are possible...but...

"Turned right" and "Turned to the right" suggest that the man was moving, and his path went right.

"Turned to his right", by making it relative to "him", doesn't suggest moving along a path, so might be better. I might prefer "looked to his right" too.

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  • He could turn his head to the right, or look (or glance) to his right. It is impolite (at least where I live) to stare at strangers. Sep 19, 2022 at 9:46
  • I'm not convinced the change direction of moving / looking distinction turns on whether it's the right or his right, so much as it turns on whether or not we include the preposition to. That's to say He turned right usually implies he changed direction, where He turned to the/his right more likely implies he looked to that side. But these are usage tendencies - they don't prevent native speakers from reversing those meanings. Sep 19, 2022 at 11:44
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    Thats probably worth an alternate answer
    – James K
    Sep 19, 2022 at 11:45
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In OP's context it's an irrelevant stylistic choice whether to use his right or the right (but a quick check with Google Books suggests the is slightly more common).

The change direction of moving / looking distinction isn't affected by whether it's the right or his right. The relevant tendency there is...

He turned right
= He changed direction [of travel]
He turned to the / his right
= He looked to one side [turning his neck/torso]

Note that this is a usage tendency, not a "rule". The intended sense is usually contextually obvious anyway, but nothing prevents competent native speakers from reversing the above distinction in any given case.


TL;DR: OP's first alternative is relatively unlikely / stylistically weak. The second and third alternatives are equivalent and interchangeable.

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  • Could it be that 'turned to the right' is more common because it can be used with also female and plural pronouns? I wish I could test that on ngram, but right now it's not working.
    – Fra
    Sep 20, 2022 at 9:51
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    No, that couldn't be a factor! Native Anglophones have never cared much about linguistic gender. We're had genderless "singular they" since before Shakespeare's time, and we've never assigned gender to nouns like other European languages. But that's because Anglophones aren't interested in such matters, not because English was into woke anti-sexist language centuries before the rest of the world! Sep 20, 2022 at 10:40

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