When referring to "left" and "right" from another person's point of view.

Quickly,which half of this bizarre dress shows the most skin?

The left, of course. Is this a poll?

I would say “your right” or “your left”. In the example in the OP, I’d say “the model’s left”.

Yes. I have trouble with left and right anyway, but I get completely baffled when I have to take into account if I should talk from the other person’s pov, or my own. I wondered how many other people have the same problem.

I always refer to the other’s correct side. In the OP example, saying “the left” or “her left” are both correct. If I’m telling you there’s schmutz on your face, I’m going to tell you which of your cheeks it’s on.

That’s the one that catches me out sometimes; not vocally, but visually. When someone dabs at the corner of their mouth (to mean I’ve got something on the corner of my mouth), I don’t know if their right side means my right side, or if they’re trying to do a mirror-image thing.

If it would be me, would be doing the mirror image thing.

Her left *should *be pretty unambiguous.

To avoid confusion though, how about “on her anatomical left”?

For me the question is unambigous because the it refers to the dress, an object that has intrinsic left and right halves. But perhaps it would be more precise to state ‘the port side of the dress is more revealing’?

Could you imagine someone looking at a sweater lying spread out, state ‘This sweater has a spot on the left sleeve’, then turn it over and state ‘Now it has a spot on the right sleeve’?

There’s a clear established convention for this, as used by auto mechanics when referring to a side of a car. It makes sense and ought to work perfectly well for referring to a side of anything else.

The “left side” or “right side” of a car always refers to the side as seen by a driver sitting in the driver’s seat, or a person standing behind the car facing toward the front of the car. More generally, the “left” or “right” side of an object are always stated in reference to that object’s own point of view.

So Mops has a good point to ask “Could you imagine . . . ?” – The left sleeve of a sweater is unambiguous and constant, regardless of the position of the sweater itself, and regardless of the position of any observers.

There might be some ambiguity when talking about an object seen in a photograph, like the dress linked in the OP. The “skin” side of the dress is the left side of the dress, but it’s toward the right side of the photograph. If there were a tree in the photo, to the model’s left, would you say the tree is “on the left” ? Or would you say it’s “on the right” (because it’s toward the right side of the picture)?

Thinking just a bit more about what I just posted above (about the “left” and “right” sides of a photograph): It seems like we have a convention about that, that is opposite from everything else.

I suggested that “left” and “right” of anything should be defined by the object’s own point of view, the same as would be seen by a person standing behind the object looking toward the front of the object.

Now, it seems that we do the opposite with pictures. The “left” side of a picture usually means the left side as seen by a person standing in front of the picture, facing toward the picture.

Imagine a picture printed as a transparency on a sheet of celluloid, being help upright in the air. Imagine defining “left” and “right” by a person standing behind the transparency, looking toward (through) it. That’s how we define left and right for everything else. But for a picture, we do just the opposite of that.

I would say ‘her left side’ to avoid confusion.

I would say her left side or the right side.

There’s also commonly confusion about the meaning of the “left side” or “right side” of a room, or a house, or other building.

Say you are standing on the sidewalk in front of a house, facing the house. Which side of the house is the “left” side and which is the “right” side? Or say you want to describe the placement of furniture within a room. Which side of the room is “left” and which is “right”?

I believe the convention for a house is the same is with other objects like cars: Left and right are defined as if by a person looking at the house from behind.

I’m less certain if the rule is the same for a room within a house. I think it is: If you stand inside a room facing the main entrance to the room (assuming that’s well-defined), then left side of the room is on the person’s left, and the right side on the person’s right. But I suspect that some people may do the opposite, and define left and right from the POV of a person outside the front of the room looking in at the door. And now that I think of it, I’m not so sure which is more generally accepted here.

For something like a house I’d qualify it by saying “Facing the front door” or “Facing the street”.

Senegoid and Tripolar, good point on houses. I find that I don’t even try to use right or left inside the house. I always say; " the gardens’s side" or " the streets’ side. There is a reason that larger homes, that have windows and doors and gardens facing both ways, speak of east and west wings.

Senegoid, you make a good point about the (theoretical) tree vs the dress in the picture. Maybe that is part of where my confusion comes from. There is a convention to refer to clothes and body parts according to the orientation of the owner, but it is interesting to see where that ends. Do we say that this cat has the white spot on the left, or on the right?

I even flunked a biology class once because I insisted that the liver was on the left, because it was on the left of all those pictures I studied.

I am permanently afflicted with a sort of directional dyslexia; on a surprise association I get it right about 50% of the time, even if I am prepared to make an answer. It’s the only inherent mental processing flaw of mine that I’m aware of, and it annoys me, but attempts to correct it have failed for many decades.

The question asks about the dress, not the model or the photograph. It is “the left.”

I would say that the rule for a house is a ‘view’ from the inside–the house’s ‘own’ view, as it were. In other words, (nearly all) houses have a face. The front door is in front. The back door is behind. The house’s left side is typically on the right of a person approaching from the street–though a few houses don’t face the street.

Like a dress, and a car, a house (typically) has a built-in orientation that has nothing to do with the viewpoint of any person.

Stage left is more bare than stage right.

In many human endeavors where left and right are inadequate to facilitate easy communication, the frequent participants in those endeavors have a shorthand to eliminate the confusion. We talk about “driver’s side”, “passenger side”, port, starboard, or even non-subjective metrics like East, West, North, South. It’s something that baffles people who only have occasional contact with these activities, but once you’ve been doing it for a while you rapidly become accustomed to it.


With animals, it’s always from the perspective of a diagram depicting the top of the animal with head facing forward. Like this. That cat’s face is white on the left.