On a German page about the Russian language, I learned the words

прямо [prjáma] – geradeaus (straight on)
направо [napráwa] – rechts (right)
налево [naléwa] – links (left)

for directions (location plan[*]), for instance:

Идите прямо и потом поверните налево. (Go straight ahead and then turn left.)

Coincidentally, I came across an academic work (written in German) about left and right in the Russian language. While reading, I learned that there are another two words for both left and right.

left   right
сле́ва  спра́ва
вле́во  впра́во

In the academic work, the three words are compared to each other. The author examined two corpora with more than one million words.

frequency of usage table

Obviously, the word pair which I learned (налево / направо) is just the second most common designator for left and right.

I'd like to briefly summarize what I came to know from the academic work. (I hope that I don't have any misconceptions.)

The writer distinguishes between three cases. The (1) "direct personal direction" (e.g. The sea is to my left), the (2) "indirect personal direction" (e.g. The police station is on the left side from the church) and the (3) "non-personal direction" (e.g. The seats on the left side of the cinema).

The examples she uses are solely taken from literary texts (sorry, I was wrong. Not solely, a few are taken from a dictionary).

a. I start with (1). When talking about direct personal directions, the most common word pair is сле́ва / спра́ва. Only налево / направо can be used without changing the meaning of a sentence.

b. I continue with (2). When talking about indirect personal directions, сле́ва / спра́ва is, again, most frequently used. Both other word pairs can be used synonymously; examples for налево / направо were only found in dictionaries though.

c. Lastly (3). When talking about non-personal directions, only the word pair сле́ва / спра́ва is used. No written examples exist using the other word pairs.


  • Since the writer isn't a native Russian herself, she consulted Russian friends asking them about their personal opinions for interchangeability.
  • The time of the origin of the literary texts is not clear. At least I haven't been able to find that information.

So, finally, here are my questions. I'm sorry for combining a couple of questions into one, but they belong together.

  1. Are the summarized results valid for nowadays colloquial speech and everyday conversations? Would you also agree that сле́ва / спра́ва is the most frequent word pair, while вле́во / впра́во only rarely used? (The gap seems very large.)

  2. I learned налево / направо for directions (location plan). According to b., there are no written examples using them in indirect personal directions. I personally would integrate directions into category (2), i.e. indirect personal directions. However, налево / направо are accepted as synonyms for the category (2), but only dictionary examples exist. That's somewhat ambivalent and inconsistent. Are налево and направо the preferred words for describing directions (location plan)?

  3. Which main distinctions do you personally see between those three word pairs. As a non-native, do I need to carefully think about which word I use in order to not be mistaken?

  4. I tried to figure out if German or English also have different words for left and right, but I can't think of any. Maybe my understanding of the three word pairs is just wrong and therefore I can't conclude the correct German or English counterparts, if any exist. Do you know of any counterparts in the English language (and German, if applicable)?

I guess after writing this long text and now being tired and weary, I might have forgotten something. Please feel free to add any thoughts to your answer if you consider them to be important, interesting or helpful in any way.

[*] Since I often used the word "directions" in two different senses, I (hopefully always) designated that word with "location plan" when talking about ... yeah, directions ;)

  • 1
    "[prjáma]" - I warn you against using such transcriptions: there is no "j" sound in this word. "Я" reads [ja] only in the beginning of a word, after a vowel or after a hard/soft sign. In other cases it is read just [a]. The "e" letter behaves the similarly.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 17:07
  • 2
    @Anixx, the author used a direct quotation from German language page, where the German system for transliteration of Russian is used. It may not look right to us, but so does not Russian system of transliteration of English or German — it is just close enough approximation. We could agree on using IPA, but then again, it was a direct quotation.
    – theUg
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 18:51
  • 1
    @theUg I see that it is a direct quotetion. That's why I warned him.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 19:02
  • @Anixx Direct quotations are to be left sic erat scriptum, as far as academia is concerned. We do need to strive to use IPA for anything else.
    – theUg
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 19:10
  • 1
    @Anixx Why so, and what should we use then?
    – theUg
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 19:48

8 Answers 8


There are two interrogatives in Russian corresponding to English "where": locational (где?) and directional (куда?)


  • Where are you? Где ты?
  • Where are you going (to)? Куда ты идёшь?

справа and слева are locational adverbs, they describe locations of the objects: этот дом справа от меня. They correspond to English "to the right of".

вправо/направо and влево/налево are directional, they describe directions: поверни направо, посмотри влево. They correspond to English "to the right".

Mixing справа and направо/вправо is ungrammatical.

Now, направо and вправо are both directional adverbs, and in modern language they are quite interchangeable.

Generally, направо/налево assume changing movement direction or the line of sight in the corresponding direction and вправо/влево assume keeping it.

For instance, when you turn, you change direction:

and when you sidestep, you keep it:

However, this rule is not strict and the words can be used interchangeably.

  • 10
    There's one more meaning for слева/справа - to show starting point as in "слева направо", which translates to "from left to right" in English. Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 14:42
  • I can't seem to tell these two ways by heart(locational/directional). I always mix them up. Is there a useful mnemonic or other way to remember which one is which?
    – Felipe
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 12:17
  • 2
    @FelipeAlmeida: a direction always has two points: where from and where to. Thus куда (where to) has a counterpart откуда (where from), and где (where) does not have such a counterpart. So the word with a counterpart (куда/откуда) is a directional word, the word without it (где) is a locational one.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 20:01
  • yeah..I didn't explain myself correctly. I meant налево/направо VS справа/слева.. I forgot again, which is positional and which is directional =P
    – Felipe
    Commented Sep 10, 2012 at 7:25
  • 4
    @FelipeAlmeida С какой стороны находится? - справа. В какую сторону пойти? - вправо.
    – Artemix
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 19:25

I tried to figure out if German or English do also have different words for left and right, but I can't think of any. Maybe my understanding of the three word pairs is just wrong and therefore I can't conclude the correct German or English counterparts, if any existing. Do you know counterparts in the English language (and German, if applicable)?

Depending on the meaning and context, both German and English use different prepositional phrases for left and right. It just so happens that the Russian rules prescribe to write these adverbial phrases as one word.

So *на лево is the German nach links and *на право is the German nach rechts. But we spell them as one word like налево → *nachlinks and направо → *nachrechts.

The phrase слева направо is equivalent to the German von links nach rechts. Again we spell it like *vonlinks nachrecths, even though it can actually be thought of as *с лева на право.

Don't let the spelling confuse you! As a matter of fact, it is not intuitive even for Russian speakers so school kids and sometimes even adults are having a hard time with all this Getrennt-und-Zusammenschreibung stuff.

As you continue to learn Russian, you will come across other similar adverbs like that. For example, сзади (= с + зади) → von hinten and назад (= на + зад) → nach hinten.


These words are sometimes used in different situations:

мы (намеренно) сворачиваем направо/налево We are turning to the right / to the left


мы (непроизвольно) отклоняемся вправо/влево We are deviating from our course to the right / to the left


The basic forms of right and left are, respectively право and лево.

What apparently confused you are the preposition forms, с, в and, на which mean "to," "in," and "on" respectively, and are connected to право and лево. That is, the prepositions are connected to the directions in Russian, while they are separated in English. With the connected prepositions, the respective forms are

left   right     meaning
сле́ва  спра́ва    to the left/right
вле́во  впра́во    in the left/right
налево направо   on the left/right

Think of prefixes as if they were prepositions:

  • С + ɢᴇɴ: слева, справа (like English from, from left/right side)

  • В + ᴀᴄᴄ: влево, вправо (like English in)

  • На + ᴀᴄᴄ: налево, направо (like English on)

The difference between влево and налево is not that great. Use either if in doubt.

  • В + ᴀᴄᴄ is not like the English in as в + ᴀᴄᴄ shows movement and in is not usually used for describing movement. В + ᴀᴄᴄ is like the English to or into. The same goes for на + ᴀᴄᴄ. It is like the English to or sometimes onto.
    – stillenat
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 3:53

I. Are the summarized results valid for nowadays colloquial speech and everyday conversations? YES

III. Which main distinctions do you personally see between those three word pairs. As a non-native, do I need to carefully think about which word I'll use for not being mistaken? It will be better for you if you divide this words by derivation and then try to describe word.

For example:

слева - Приставка "с" + корень "лев" + суффикс "а"

направо - Приставка "на" + корень "прав" + суффикс "о"


Every "Приставка" has it own very big meaning. And I think it better to understand russian words this way.

Are налево and направо the preferred words for describing directions (location plan)?

NO. They are used, depending on situation:

Слева от чего-то. Relative location to something

Направо - прямое указание. Absolute location

Поверни вправо. Location in some action


There is another possible using of налево in Russian: сходить налево - means cheating on one's wife...


Another possible meaning can be: левая (или правая) партия (в парламенте). From Russian Wikipedia:

Термины «правые» и «левые» впервые появились во французском Национальном Собрании времён Великой Французской революции. В нём возникли три направления: справа сидели фельяны — сторонники конституционной монархии; в центре сидели жирондисты — умеренные сторонники республики; слева сидели якобинцы, выступавшие за радикальные преобразования. Таким образом, изначально правыми называли тех, кто желает сохранить существующее положение (консерваторов), а левыми — тех, кто выступал за перемены (радикалов).


To summarize: Левые (политика) - The general name for the political forces the goal of which is social equality and making better living conditions for the least privileged parts of society, and Правые - is the name for political forces which goal is opposed to the Левые: natural (except for the радикальные правые) inequality, and they adhere to the principles of capitalism.

  • yes, betrayal is very accurate in this case... But it can be used only in sense of sexual betrayal and not in general betrayal
    – Prizoff
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 7:16
  • How a wall of text from Wikipedia addresses the question? каким образом толстая цитата из Википедии относится к вопросу? Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 20:02

Я пойду направо. = I'll go right.

На следующем повороте поверните направо. = Turn right at the next corner.

Чашка находится слева от меня. = The cup is on my left.

Из окна справа вы видите прекрасное сооружение советской эпохи. = From the window on the right you can see a beautiful building of the Soviet era.

Наклоните этот столб влево. = Tilt this pole to the left.

These are the main methods of application, and they are completely sufficient for ordinary communication. I am a native speaker of Russian, and I understand English quite well. The meaning of these expressions is correct.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.