If you tell me to take the right car shall I take the not left car or the not wrong car?

  • Toss a coin. Or use "port" and "starboard". (This is a common source of confusion, though only rarely does it result in serious problems.) – Hot Licks Dec 16 '14 at 16:11
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    There isn't an easy way, so confusion of the two in conversation is a staple for lazy writers. It's absolutely vital we make the next turn. Left? Right. Wait, where are we going‽ Well, you said 'right'! – choster Dec 16 '14 at 16:26
  • I'd say, we'll take the Porsche not the Volkswagen. Plus if you don't have the keys, you won't be 'taking' either car. – pazzo Dec 16 '14 at 21:09
  • My favorite is when someone is giving me directions and I ask them something along the lines, "take the next left right?" – user3334690 Dec 16 '14 at 21:55
  • There's no wright way to do it I'm afraid. – ike Dec 16 '14 at 22:41

A native speaker wouldn't tell you to take the "right car", when he means "the car on the right". When in doubt, context is everything.

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    I think I (BrEng speaker) possibly use "the right-hand one" more often than "the one on the right" when distinguishing two things. Never "the right one" unless I was referring to a part of the body or an article of clothing (e.g. the right foot, the left glove). – mikeagg Dec 16 '14 at 16:43
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    @mikeagg: As a BrE speaker tbh I would definitely say "the one on the right". – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 16 '14 at 20:37

It pretty much depends on context. If someone talks about "making a right turn," you can pretty safely assume they mean right-left right, and if someone talks about "making the right decision," they clearly mean right-wrong right. If the context doesn't help, as in your example, you could rephrase it slightly, such as saying "the car on the right" to mean the right-left right car or "the correct car" to mean the right-wrong right car.

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  • Apparently Dennis Williamson and I were typing at the same time. – Nicole Dec 16 '14 at 16:12
  • At each turn, there is only one correct turn to take you where you're trying to go, so a turn to the right would be "a right turn" while a turn in the correct direction would be "the right turn." As in "Take a right turn here" (right-left right) vs. "Is this the right turn?" (right-wrong right). – Nicole Dec 17 '14 at 2:46

You have to distinguish with context, or a follow-up question, unless the speaker is careful and says 'car on the right'. English speakers ask follow-up questions all the time. There is no way around it.

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You can say "the car on the right" or "the correct car" to avoid ambiguity.

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    But how would one know you didn't mean the more conservative car? – Hot Licks Dec 16 '14 at 16:13
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    @HotLicks, just be glad it was a car not a whale. – A E Dec 16 '14 at 17:56

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