We normally say to my right and to my left.

If something is located to my top or bottom how would I say that? Say, I am lying on the floor, to my right there is a wall, to my left there is a desk* and to my top/bottom? Should we use top and bottom or is there a better way of saying this?

  • I think this is general reference. The fact that English doesn't use "to my top/bottom" the same as "right/left" hardly seems justification for the question. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 17:00
  • 3
    Hmm, seems to me that this is exactly the sort of question that is difficult to answer by looking in a dictionary. It's about how words are actually used versus dictionary definitions, and exactly the sort of thing that trips up non-native speakers.
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 17:38
  • 1
    This is precisely a linguistic question, dealt with in detail under the rubric of Deixis. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 18:15
  • This reminds me that there is, or perhaps was, an Australian people who located themselves by reference to points of the compass. Wherever they were,they knew intuitively where north, south, east and west were and described their movements and the location of objects and other people, in those terms. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 18:57
  • You seem to assume that left and right are clear enough, but they are not; you have not told us whether you are lying prone or supine. Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 20:51

6 Answers 6


If you are lying down, "above" and "below" continue to be with respect to gravity.

Hence, when you're lying down, the ground is below you, and the sky is above you.

You might refer to things "at your feet" or "behind your head".

  • I think this is the reaso we don't have self-referential up and down, because everyones reference is re gravity. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 17:07

To my right there's a wall, to my left there's a desk, above me there's a ceiling and below me there's a floor.

  • 1
    I am not standing. I am lying on the floor.
    – Noah
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 16:55
  • @Noah: I don't see how that matters. The ceiling is still above you, whether stand, crouch, crawl, sleep or cook.
    – Frantisek
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 16:56
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    Right. But say, I am not talking about the ceilings. To my head side there is a cabinet. And to my foot side there is chair.
    – Noah
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 16:58

'Top' and 'bottom' are not directions (or prepositions), they are features of a static object by itself: 'the top of my head'.

'To my top' sounds like a direction but is somewhat infelicitous; it sounds like you are a box. You'd prefer to say 'towards my top' or 'towards my head' and that can come from any direction around the top/head.

'Above' and 'below' are the directions (and grammatically prepositions). They go in the direction according to gravity. If you are hanging upside-down, 'above you' is in the direction of your feet.

If you are on the space station with no gravity, it is relative to your head, 'above you' is always in the direction out the top of your head. But that is not particularly common usage. 'above you' is by far away from the pull of gravity.


If you are lying on the floor on or near Earth's surface on your back, I would take above you to mean above your ventral surface; that is, away from Earth's center, along a radius, out toward space.

Along the head-to-foot axis, or anteroposterior axis, "the polar opposite to the anterior end is the posterior end", your head being at the anterior end of your body, according to vertebrate directional terms in wikipedia.

The terms top and bottom are used ambiguously in your question, as top might refer to any of dorsal, ventral, or anterior, depending on whether you regard top as equal to spatial direction up, vs taking it as a body-relative term.


These questions (and many others) are answered in Fillmore's Santa Cruz Deixis Lectures. The one to read about these terms is Lecture 2, entitled simply "Space".

Since Fillmore is a far better writer, I forbear to summarize them here. Go the source.


As Mitch notes, "top" and "bottom" are not directions like "left" and "right" are.

I don't think English has any words resembling top and bottom that are used in the same was as "to my left/right". You can say "The ceiling is above me" to convey this idea. But there is no word I can think of that you could say "The ceiling is to my _" like you would say "The door is to my left." That said, "above" and "below" convey the meaning you seem to be looking for, they're just not used the same way.

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