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My dictionary says both "à gauche/droite" and "sur la gauche/droite" have the meanings "on the left/right" and "to the left/right"; what is the difference between them? Are they interchangeable?

La bibliothèque se trouve sur la/ta/votre gauche.
La bibliothèque se trouve à (ta/votre) gauche.

Which is better?

"Tournez à gauche." is what I learned. Is "Tournez sur la gauche." also acceptable? If so, are they different in meaning?

Is there any inclination to choose one of them depending on the verb?

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Sur la gauche/droite” refers to an area which is on the left/right side. “À gauche/droite” refers to what you can reach by going in a left/right direction. The two are synonymous when talking about the position or something, but sur doesn't really work when talking about the direction something is headed towards.

La bibliothèque se trouve sur la gauche” and “la bibliothèque se trouve à gauche” are mostly synonymous. There is a preference for sur in some cases, for example “la bibliothèque se trouve sur la gauche sur cette photo” means that the library is in the left 45% or so of the picture, whereas “… à gauche …” would exclude more of the middle. On the other hand, à is somewhat preferred in sentences like “la bibliothèque est à gauche de l'église”, but “la bibliothèque est sur la gauche de l'église” also works; both allow the library to be either adjacent to the church or further to the left.

?Tourner sur la gauche” is not really idiomatic because turning is about the direction you're facing, not about your position. I would never use this when giving directions, for example. This sentence makes me think of the way you're turning, like which leg you're using to pivot in a dance move. I think there's some variation between native speakers there, even within France, though. Checking online, it seems there are people who use “tourner sur …” in a car. But it's not something I would say. Of course it's perfectly comprehensible.

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  • Merci beaucoup ! How about the case of using a possessive (ma, ta, ...)? Is "La bibliothèque est à ma droite." better than "... est sur ma droite."? Dec 24, 2023 at 14:20
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    @KotobaTrilyNgian Using a possessive doesn't affect the choice of preposition. Dec 24, 2023 at 18:55
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With the verb tourner, “à gauche” is more commonly used, especially when giving directions. The prepositional phrases “sur la gauche” and “sur votre gauche” just make the direction relative to whom you are speaking more clear.

Sur and à both work in the two example sentences you gave and mean the same thing.

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