May I know why "in" is used in this sentence:

Tom asked Bill where the train station was? Bill told him north, pointing him in the right direction.

Why does it not use :

pointing him to the right direction.

pointing him at the right direction.

Are they correct? What are the differences?

  • 3
    I don't think there is any answer to this except 'that's the way we say it in English'. Jan 6, 2023 at 9:10
  • @KateBunting I agree with you there. Personally, I'd use "in the right direction". I've seen it used more and it just sounds correct.
    – Arden
    Jan 6, 2023 at 18:46
  • @Arden - Of course you would - I meant that in the right direction is idiomatic for English. Jan 6, 2023 at 18:57
  • Question is off topic and opinion based. Recommended action is swift deletion. Jan 7, 2023 at 20:36
  • It was a problem for me, because I compared its construction with these two constructions: >point someone to something. >point something at someone/something. So I didn't know >"pointing someone in some direction" is an idiom. Thank you.
    – Sara2023
    Jan 8, 2023 at 4:41

2 Answers 2


A direction is not a thing or a place. You can't point at it.

Likewise, a direction is not a destination. You can't go to it.

For example, if I said "go east", you'll never reach it. There's always an east, and you can always keep going.

But you can point in the direction of something, either a place (one that you cannot see from your position, so you can't point 'at' it) or a compass direction.


  • I'm going in this direction to get to work.
  • @fertilizerspike Facts, especially fundamental truths that nobody disputes, can sometimes sound assertive and declarative. I can't really do anything about the truthfulness of what I've said. I'll certainly consider alternatives if you can provide some robust, peer-reviewed data to the contrary, otherwise I don't think the onus of proof sits with me to provide anything more at this stage.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 6, 2023 at 19:50
  • 1
    @fertilizerspike your counterexample shows his point. "This points at the fact that..." is pointing at a thing. Notice you didn't say that it "points in the fact that"; you could say "this points to the thesis being false", but there also you are led to (or, we could say, arriving at) the conclusion.
    – Aos Sidhe
    Jan 6, 2023 at 21:09

As mentioned by Astralbee, a direction is not a physical object or place. It is instead defined by motion and travel: you can't have a "direction" that goes nowhere. So when you point "in" a direction, you are pointing along the line of motion, or you are following that motion yourself. The others are understandable, but have different nuances. For example, compare using each term to describe where a library is:

  • "Pointing him to the library": Bill told Tom exactly where the library is. They might be able to see it from where they are, or he might be using a map, or something similar, but either way, there's a clear end destination. Tom will know when he's reached the destination.
  • "Pointing him at the library": Bill might show where the library is, or it might be more general, but either way it gives an approximate idea of where the destination is. Tom might not know exactly where he's going, but he'll know when he's nearby or in the right area.
  • "Pointing him in the direction of the library": Bill didn't give Tom specific indication of where the library is, but he told Tom what direction to go. Tom could pass by the library, but still keep going, and still be going in the same direction.
  • +1 a good answer that stands on its own. I'm really sorry that you received a downvote from somebody. Please don't be put off by that - the site is currently experiencing a troll. I'm hoping the mods will take action soon.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 7, 2023 at 10:58
  • 1
    A good and thorough answer! I'd add that to "point someone at something" might also mean 'physically turn that person to be facing the thing.'
    – Katy
    Jan 7, 2023 at 16:57

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