Turn or Make a Turn?

18 February 2022

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Orlando in Brazil. He writes,


Could you please tell me the difference between these phrases when talking about directions?

We can turn left to go there.


We can make left to go there.

Which one is considered correct?
Orlando, Brazil.


Dear Orlando,

Thank you for writing to us. Please note that the word "left" serves as two different parts of speech in these two sentences. In the first one, "left" is an adverb. It shows the direction of a turn. Here is a similar example:

At the next intersection, I turned left and then right onto Main Street.

In that statement, both "left" and "right" show a movement in a certain direction. They are both adverbs, which means they affect the meaning of a verb. A person or a vehicle can turn, as we have in this example,

The car ran the stop right there, and it turned left.

But we would not talk about a vehicle "making a turn." Generally speaking, only people can "make a turn."

Make a turn

Your second statement is missing an important word, the determiner "a." It should be:

We can make a left to go there.

It also leaves out a word that a listener understands but is not said, "turn."

We can make a left [turn] to go there.

When we give directions with the word "make" we have to use "a" because here, "left" serves as an adjective. It modifies the noun "turn." Here are other examples from the Corpus of Contemporary American English, or COCA:

He made a left turn on a red light. Horns protested.

Officials said the driver in front was waiting to make a left turn.

In looking at the results in COCA, I found that "to make a turn" is much less common than simply using the verb "turn." Some writers think it is a North American way of speaking.

Take a turn

There is one more way to give directions. You can ask someone to "take a turn."

Take the second right turn after the bank.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

sentence n. a group of words that expresses a statement, question, command, or wish

intersection n. the place or point where two or more things come together

modify –v. (grammar) to limit or describe the meaning of (a word or group of words)

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