* Before starting, please check our Platform Guidelines.
1. Post-edition at Unbabel
At Unbabel we have a unique approach to translation: each text submitted by a customer is translated by our Machine Translation system, and then corrected by our community of editors in an online platform. By editing the output of the software, the editors ensure the quality of the translations and confirm that the message is accurate (i.e., has the same meaning as the original), fluent (i.e., can be easily understood and sounds natural) and is in line with the style requested by the clients (i.e. respects their register and terminology). In order to help editors do the best job possible, we provide various types of information:
- Customer instructions, which include the identification of the client and his requests to personalize the translation, such as the register that must be used to address the recipient of the message. Following these instructions is vital to deliver translations that match the client’s expectations.
- Glossaries, which correspond to specific vocabulary and expressions used by the client, and that must be respected by the editors.
- Translation Memories, which correspond to stored segments (expressions, sentences or paragraphs) that have previously been translated and accepted for customer usage. They are useful for ensuring consistency across translations.
We also have Smartcheck, which is an application that checks the grammar, morphology, orthography and style of the translations while being edited. By using a large set of rules, Smartcheck flags words or groups of words that may present some kind of issue.
Finally, in order to deliver the best possible translation, we also provide these guidelines about your language specifications. Please, read them carefully and always follow these instructions in your editions.
NOTE: The default variety of English for all Unbabel translations is US English.
2.1.1. Tense, mood, aspect, person (for verbs)
Rules of agreement between subject and verb in English are extremely straightforward. Errors in the Unbabel translations are in general restricted to mass (uncountable) nouns that refer to a collective group of things or people, also known as collective nouns.
When acting as the subject of a sentence, a mass noun (majority in the following example) normally takes a singular verb.
✓ The ruling majority is unlikely to share power.
However, it normally takes a plural verb if the predicate (which is ‘non-members’ in the following example) is plural.
✘ The majority is non-members.
✓ The majority are non-members.
Mass nouns, such as ‘number’, are often followed by a prepositional phrase with a plural noun, as in ‘A number of people’.
The article that precedes the mass noun signals whether the verb should be singular or plural. If a definite article (‘the’) precedes, the mass noun (‘number’ and ‘quantity’ in the following examples) controls the verb, and a singular verb is used.
✘ The number of people attending were higher than expected.
✓ The number of people attending was higher than expected.
✘ The quantity of pizzas ordered have fallen.
✓ The quantity of pizzas ordered has fallen.
But if an indefinite article (‘a’ or ‘an’) precedes the mass noun, then the noun in the prepositional phrase (‘people’ and ‘students’ in the following examples) controls the verb.
✘ A number of people was found to be HIV positive.
✓ A number of people were found to be HIV positive.
✘ A small percentage of students has failed.
✓ A small percentage of students have failed.
2.1.2. Gender and number (pronouns)
Problems with gender in English are restricted to the use of singular 3rd person pronouns. Basically, a personal pronoun in the genitive case (possessive pronoun) is governed by the gender of the possessor.
✘ The President was accompanied by her wife.
✓ The President was accompanied by his wife.
There is no problem with 3rd person plural pronouns, as these are identical for both grammatical genders.
✓ Doctors are required to register medicines prescribed to their patients.
✓ Both men and women occupy senior positions in their businesses.
However, a problem may arise when the 3rd person pronoun is singular and the noun or context gives no indication of gender. The following sentence, while perfectly correct, is no longer considered acceptable because of gender bias (that is, it is "politically incorrect").
A doctor is required to register medicines prescribed to his patients.
A commonly used solution is the 'singular they':
A doctor is required to register medicines prescribed to their patients.
However, while it may be acceptable, it should be avoided in textual translation whenever possible. The solution is either to provide both pronouns (i.e. he/she) or to rephrase the sentence to avoid the troublesome singular pronoun:
✓ A doctor is required to register medicines prescribed to his/her patients.
✓ All medicines prescribed to a doctor's patients should be registered.
2.1.3. Case (nouns)
English does not have a case system comparable to that of Russian or Turkish, although historically it once did. Today, there remains only the marking of genitive case on nouns, which is described here. There also exists a nominative/accusative distinction on pronouns as well as the pronominal possessive, which are discussed in Section 4 on pronouns.
English normally indicates the genitive noun by use of an apostrophe and the letter 's' following the possessor.
✘ The restaurant of the hotel overlooks the lake.
✓ The hotel’s restaurant overlooks the lake.
The first example, while not grammatically absolutely incorrect, is not normal and natural English.
A common error lies in the confusion in the different use of the apostrophe and 's' with singular and plural nouns. If the possessor is singular, the apostrophe precedes the 's'. If the possessor is plural, the apostrophe follows the ‘s’.
The museum's opening hour is at 10.00 a.m. applies to one museum.
The museums' opening hour is at 10.00 a.m. applies to two or more museums.
✘ The stone hit the boys' head.
✓ The stone hit the boy's head.
With certain phrases, the apostrophe plus 's' is normally avoided and the 'of' genitive is used.
✘ This is everything's end.
✓ This is the end of everything.
- The indefinite articles ‘a’ or ‘an’ (before a noun starting with a vowel) are used with singular nouns in the indefinite usage.
- Where the noun is plural and indefinite (i.e. referring in general), no determiner is used. This use of a general plural without a determiner is a common English construction.
✓ Polar bears are becoming endangered due to global warming
Problems may emerge in translation when the source language uses an indefinite plural determiner. The error often consists in using the English definite article to translate the plural indefinite determiner in the source language.
Source text (FR): Jean est professeur et ses soeurs sont des médecins.
✘ Jean is teacher and his sisters are the doctors.
✓ Jean is a teacher and his sisters are doctors.
One of the most common errors in determiner use is to insert a definite determiner before a plural noun which has not been previously mentioned. In the example above (Polar bears are becoming endangered due to global warming) the absence of a determiner indicates that they have not yet been mentioned or defined in the text and it would therefore be incorrect, in this context, to write:
✘ The Polar bears are becoming endangered due to global warning.
BUT, this would be correct if they had already been mentioned, as in:
✓ There are many Arctic mammals, of which the best known are Polar bears. The Polar bears are becoming endangered due to global warming.
- The definite article 'the' is used with both singular and plural nouns in the definite usage.
- With abstract uncountable nouns which only have a singular form, no determiner is used when speaking in general and not specifically.
✘ The intelligence is sometimes thought to be due to the nurture rather than the nature.
✓ Intelligence is sometimes thought to be due to nurture rather than nature.
- Demonstrative determiners include 'this/that' before a singular noun and 'these/those' before a plural noun. These determiners are only definite, not indefinite, and can only be used when the noun has already been specified.
Prepositions have nouns or pronouns as their objects and usually precede their object (to the station; with the dog; at the restaurant).
The exception is in relative clauses beginning with 'that' or 'which', where the preposition can end the clause.
✓ This is the book that Paul was reading from.
Formal teaching in the past insisted that a clause should not end with a preposition, hence the construction that was considered correct is This is the book from which Paul was reading.
This construction is however very formal, and the former example is much more natural in modern English.
Prepositional phrases often have an adverbial or adjectival function. In English word order, the prepositional phrases come after the noun they modify and should be as close as possible to it to avoid ambiguity and awkwardness.
- Preposition with adjectival function:
✘ The receptionist entered our bookings in the ledger with red hair.
✓ The receptionist with red hair entered our bookings in the ledger.
The choice of which preposition to use in an adverbial function depends upon the choice of both verb and noun, and is one of the most common pitfalls for non-native English speakers.
✘ We arrived to the station.
✓ We arrived at the station.
✘ We arrived at good time.
✓ We arrived in good time.
- Clashing prepositions:
If a phrasal verb (e.g. ‘give in’) precedes a prepositional phrase using the same term as the adverb, the adverb clashes with the preposition and should be rephrased.
✘ He gives in in every match. [not strictly incorrect but poor style]
✓ In every match he gives in.
Too literal a translation from the source language can often lead to a required English preposition being omitted, as in the following examples:
Source text (IT): Puoi verificarlo rillegendo la politica di cancellazione.
✘ You can verify it rereading the cancellation policy.
✓ You can check it by reading the cancellation policy once more.
Source text (FR): Vous pouvez annuler votre réservation jusqu’19h le jour de votre arrivée.
✘ You can cancel your reservation up until 7.00 p.m. the day of your arrival.
✓ You can cancel your reservation up until 7.00 p.m. on the day of your arrival.
Source text (IT): Non è arrivato a casa sua sulla spiaggia.
✘ He did not arrive to his beach house.
✓ He did not arrive at his beach house.
- Subject and object pronouns
In English, a nominative/accusative distinction is observed only among 1st and 3rd person pronouns, in both the singular and the plural.
Example (subject + verb + object)
✓ He/she [3rd person singular subject] likes me [1st person singular object].
✓ I [1st person singular subject] like him/her [3rd person singular object].
✓ They [3rd person plural subject] like us [1st person plural object].
✓ We [1st person plural subject] like them [3rd person plural object].
The most common error found in these constructions is when two pronouns, or a noun and pronoun, form the subject and one or more object pronouns are used in error (this is a common error also with poorly educated native speakers).
✘ Me and him went to the cinema.
✓ He and I went to the cinema.
- The genitive (also known as the possessive)
Pronouns NEVER take an apostrophe.
English uses the following possessive pronouns before the possessed item
✓ This is my/your/her/his/our/their holiday apartment.
When the word order is inverted, the possessive pronouns change their form to:
✓ The apartment is mine/yours/his/hers/ours/theirs.
The most common error is in using an apostrophe with pronouns ending in 's'. Pronouns must NEVER be followed by an apostrophe.
✘ The apartment is their's.
✘ The apartment is theirs'.
✓ The apartment is theirs.
✘ The hotel has a swimming pool in it's garden.
✓ The hotel has a swimming pool in its garden.
- Contracted forms
In speech and informal writing, English makes much use of contracted verb forms, using an apostrophe when the verbs 'be', 'have' and many of the auxiliary verbs are followed by a negative: ‘haven't’, ‘aren't’, ‘don't’, etc. Pronouns can also use a contraction of 'be' and 'have': 'I'm’, ‘he's’, ‘they've’, ‘we'll’, etc.
These are appropriate in advertising but are not appropriate in, for example, formal business letters, financial writing and legal texts.
Source text (IT): Il prospetto non può essere pubblicato finché non è approvato dalla Consob.
✘ The prospectus can't be published until it's been approved by CONSOB.
✓ The prospectus cannot be published until it has been approved by CONSOB.
- Verb tenses
Literal translation can also cause errors in English sequence of tenses.
Source text (IT): Quando riceverai l’mail di conferma, la prenotazione sarà effettiva.
✘ When you will receive the confirmation email, the reservation will be effective.
✓ When you receive the confirmation email, the reservation will come into effect.
Note that English makes far less use of a future tense form than other languages, frequently using either the present simple tense for an event in the future (When the postman comes, could you let me know) or the present continuous (We are spending a month in Italy next year).
- Tense with ‘since’
A very common error is the incorrect tense with ‘since’, which requires the present perfect (or past perfect) tense (or present perfect continuous tense) rather than a simple tense.
Source text (IT): Il tour leader sará Luca Giovanni che guida gruppi in questa regione dal 2010.
✘ The tour leader will be Luca Giovanni who leads groups in this region since 2010.
✓ The tour leader will be Luca Giovanni who has led groups in this region since 2010.
Reference source for checking capitalization and punctuation with abbreviations:
Abbreviations based on the initial letters of a term (acronyms): AIDS, NASA, USA, UK. With these terms, written in full capitals without any spaces, no full stops are used.
✘ Following the agreement between the U.S.A. and the U.K., the U.N. adopted a new strategy to tackle the aids epidemic.
✓ Following the agreement between the USA and the UK, the UN adopted a new strategy to tackle the AIDS epidemic.
Regarding chronological eras, in modern US usage these are written in capitals without spaces or full stops: BCE; AD; etc.
✘ Caesar invaded Britain in 54 and 55 b.c.e.
✓ Caesar invaded Britain in 54 and 55 BCE.
The examples above indicate the general rule that abbreviations consisting only of capitals have no full stops.
Abbreviations, which are entirely lower case or end with a lower case letter, are followed by a full stop: infra., ibid., incl., etc., fem., km.
✘ Let’s give them approx five hours.
✓ Let’s give them approx. five hours.
Common abbreviations for languages have an initial capital and are followed by a full stop: Eng., Gk., Ital., etc.
Abbreviations ending with a lower case letter should be followed by a full stop: Mr., Dr., Mrs. (but in UK English these are not followed by a full stop).
There are two very separate uses of the apostrophe in English:
- The possessive apostrophe ('s; s') is dealt with fully in Section 2c, above. The most common error here is confusion between a singular and plural possessive noun.
The singular genitive:
✘ The stone hit the boys' head
✓ The stone hit the boy's head
The plural genitive:
✘ The stones hit the boy's heads
✓ The stones hit the boys' heads
Compare the following:
i) All the computer's monitors need to be replaced.
ii) All the computers' monitors need to be replaced.
Sentence i) means there is one computer, with a number of monitors attached and all these monitors need replacing.
Sentence ii) means there are several computers, all of which require new monitors.
Where English has an irregular plural, the apostrophe comes before the s.
✘ The childrens' attainment was below average.
✓ The children's attainment was below average.
The students' attainment was below average.
- Apostrophe with contracted verb forms
In informal writing, as in speech, it is normal to contract the verb 'to be' and most of the auxiliary verbs when followed by 'not': ‘aren't’, ‘don't’, ‘can't’. Note that the apostrophe here is standing in place of the vowel o in not.
✘These cups ar'ent intended for hot drinks.
✓These cups aren't intended for hot drinks
Pronouns with 'have' and 'be' can also be contracted in in formal writing: ‘I've’, ‘we're’, ‘they're’’, it's’.
✘ Its a long way to Tipperary.
✓ It's a long way to Tipperary.
- The incorrect, intrusive apostrophe
The contracted verb forms lead to a common and widespread error: 'it's' is the contracted verb form for 'it is' and NOT the genitive pronoun.
✘ The government considered it's position very carefully
✓ The government considered its position very carefully
This incorrect, 'intrusive' apostrophe also appears, often in advertising, with plural nouns.
✘ Kid's go free.
✘ Kids' go free.
✓ Kids go free.
- All place names, country names, region names, language names and all their related adjectives, have an initial capital: France, the Arctic Circle, the Italian people, the German language, Chinese food, Tuscan wine, Slovakian dances, Greek cooking.
✘ The waiters speak fluent english.
✓ The waiters speak fluent English.
- Points of the compass are lower case (unless they are part of a place name, as in South Sudan).
✘ In the North of this region there are extensive vineyards.
✓ In the north of this region there are extensive vineyards.
- Names of organizations and administrative bodies have initial capitals, where other languages uses lower case.
Source text (IT): il ministero di turismo
✘ the ministry of tourism
✓ the Ministry of Tourism
- Names of the days of the week and names of months have initial capitals.
✘ on monday, 5 september
✓ on Monday, 5 September
Since there are few fixed rules about compounds, the compound words should be checked in the dictionary:
Only the most basic points, where errors are commonly found, are illustrated here.
Compound adjectives are hyphenated.
✘ The Council asked for a long term loan.
✘ The Council asked for a longterm loan.
✓ The Council asked for a long-term loan.
✘ over a twenty year period.
✓ over a twenty-year period.
✘ a half hour session.
✓ a half-hour session.
But compound nouns have no hyphen.
✘ These investments are intended for the long-term
✓ These investments are intended for the long term
✘ over a period of twenty-years
✓ over a period of twenty years
✘ a session lasting a half-hour
✓ a session lasting a half hour
Colors are hyphenated before a noun but not after the noun.
✘ He bought an emerald green tie.
✓ He bought an emerald-green tie.
✘ His tie is emerald-green.
✓ His tie is emerald green.
Compounds consisting of ‘noun + adjective’ are hyphenated before a noun but not after the noun.
✘ The business needs computer literate people.
✓ The business needs computer-literate people.
✘ The business needs people who are computer-literate.
✓ The business needs people who are computer literate.
Special diacritics are not used in English, but they may be present in foreign loanwords such as French (née), German (über) among others. In such cases, consult an English dictionary to confirm the correct usage (.
3.6. Foreign words
Foreign words and phrases commonly used in English are not translated. If they have entered into English, appearing in English dictionaries (), they are written in normal type: ‘in vitro fertilization’; ‘an a priori case’; ‘bistro’; ‘ratatouille’.
Source text (IT): Suppongo non voglia che venga interrotto il suo tête-à-tête con tuo fratello.
✘ I suppose she doesn't want me to interrupt her head to head with your brother.
✓ I suppose she doesn't want me to interrupt her tête-à-tête with your brother.
Regarding numerals format (written in numbers or words), you must always respect the source text: if they are written as digits in the source text, this should be maintained in the translation; on the other hand, if they are written as words, they should be translated to the target language.
a) Numbers as words
Compound numbers under one hundred are hyphenated.
✘ There are twenty three restaurants in this area.
✓ There are twenty-three restaurants in this area.
This also applies when used in larger compounds
✘ Forty eight thousand spectators attended the fair.
✓ Forty-eight thousand spectators attended the fair.
✘ Five hundred and fifty seven occurrences were identified.
✓ Five hundred and fifty-seven occurrences were identified.
b) Numbers as numerals
English uses a comma and no space with larger numbers.
✘ 23 700
English uses and a full stop with decimals.
Percentages and other symbols are written without a preceding space.
✘ 85 %
✘ Every student should have his / her own locker.
✓ Every student should have his/her own locker.
Currency symbols have no following space.
✘ $ 45.54
✘ € 4
Note that the currency symbol precedes the amount.
✘ 45.54 $
✘ 4 €
4.1. How to use punctuation marks
Note that in English punctuation marks are NEVER preceded by a white space.
✘ Three elements contributed to the crisis : trade deficit, political unrest, and government instability.
✓ Three elements contributed to the crisis: trade deficit, political unrest, and government instability.
The comma is the smallest break in sentence structure.
Commas in pairs are used to mark an element or a phrase that introduces extra information.
✘ June 5, 2013 was a red-letter day in our family.
✓ June 5, 2013, was a red-letter day in our family.
✘ He was born in Marseilles, in the south of France in 1977.
✓ He was born in Marseilles, in the south of France, in 1977.
In a list of three or more items, these items are separated, not by conjunctions, but by commas. The last item in a list in English is preceded by the conjunction 'and'. In US English this conjunction should be preceded by a comma.
✘ For this recipe you will need tomatoes peppers onions garlic aubergine.
✘ For this recipe you will need tomatoes and peppers and onions and garlic and aubergine.
✓ For this recipe you will need tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and aubergine.
The colon is used to introduce an element or series of elements that illustrates what has preceded the colon.
✘ In Amsterdam there are a number of museums worth visiting: Rotterdam has fewer of interest to our party.
✓ In Amsterdam there are a number of museums worth visiting: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Tropenmuseum, the Anne Frank House, and the Resistance Museum.
The semicolon is used between two independent clauses which are not joined by a conjunction in order to indicate a closer connection than a full stop would show.
✓ As a professional diver he spends much time fully under water; no ordinary water-resistant watch would be enough.
The semicolon is also used before phrases such as 'for example' and 'that is'.
✓ There are alternatives to the plastic shopping bag; for example, bags made of jute or cotton.
- Full stop (period)
The full stop marks the end of a sentence. It is followed by a single space before the next sentence.
Errors arise when a full stop is used with brackets. If a full sentence beginning with a capital is enclosed in brackets, the full stop is within the brackets.
✘ Guests are taken to the hotel by shuttle. (Any guests who miss the shuttle will need to take a taxi).
✓ Guests are taken to the hotel by shuttle. (Any guests who miss the shuttle will need to take a taxi.)
When the words enclosed in the brackets are included within another sentence (even if they form a complete sentence), the full stop is outside the brackets.
✘ Guests are taken to the hotel by shuttle (the shuttle runs every hour.)
✓ Guests are taken to the hotel by shuttle (the shuttle runs every hour).
- Exclamation mark
This is used sparingly in English, to mark emphasis.
An exclamation mark should be placed inside quotation marks or brackets if it is the quote or parenthetical itself that bears the emphasis.
✘ He walked off the stage to cries of "Bravo"!
✓ He walked off the stage to cries of "Bravo!".
✘ He asked if I remembered him (as if I could have forgotten)!
✓ He asked if I remembered him (as if I could have forgotten!).
NOTE that in the second example, the full stop comes after the bracket.
- Question mark
Question marks are used to indicate a direct question.
✓ Is it worth the risk?
And are NEVER used for indirect questions.
✘ He asked himself if it was worth the risk?
✓ He asked himself if it was worth the risk.
Requests structured as questions do NOT need a question mark.
✘ Would you please reply by March 16?
✓ Would you please reply by March 16.
The use of the hyphen in compound words is discussed in full in Section 4 above.
The only other use of the hyphen is as a separator between number clusters for clarity, such as telephone numbers (0044-01997-042351), ISBNs (978-0-226-10749) etc.
The en-dash (alt+hyphen) is used in dates.
✘ Tourism grew in the years 2005-2008 [incorrect use of hyphen]
✓ Tourism grew in the years 2005–2008
And when simply meaning 'to'.
✓ The Rome–Milan train leaves at two o'clock.
✓ The Senate voted 113–67 to repeal the act.
The em-dash (alt+shift+hyphen) is widely used for parenthesis instead of commas, colons, brackets etc. It does not have preceding or following white spaces.
✘ It was the most potent image in democracy — the revolutionary idea.
✓ It was the most potent image in democracy—the revolutionary idea.
✓ The match—which had already been interrupted by spectators—was finally abandoned.
✓ The influence of these Venetian painters—Titian and Veronese—was immense.
- Quotation marks
Double quotation marks are used in US English. They are used in dialogues to show direct speech.
✓ It would be unusual for a tourist guide to begin by saying, "Good morning. I wish you had all stayed in bed."
And for quoted matter.
✓ What is that poem that begins, "Hail to thee, Blithe spirit"?
The errors that are seen with quotation marks usually relate to punctuation of the closing mark. The question or exclamation mark are placed inside if they are part of the direct speech or the quotation.
✘ I simply asked, "Can you bring me a glass of water"?
✓ I simply asked, "Can you bring me a glass of water?"
They are placed outside if they are part of the surrounding text and NOT of the material enclosed by the quotation marks.
✘ What is that poem that begins, "Hail to thee, Blithe spirit?"
✓ What is that poem that begins, "Hail to thee, Blithe spirit"?
Brackets should be preceded by a space and followed by a space if there is no punctuation, but there should be no initial or closing space within the brackets.
✘ The food in this little bistro( which only has five tables )is truly excellent.
✓ The food in this little bistro (which only has five tables) is truly excellent.
Punctuation marks which do not belong to the material inside the brackets follow the final bracket, without a space.
✘ When you reach the top of the hill (and if you have enough breath left,) you will be able to explore the ancient fort.
✓ When you reach the top of the hill (and if you have enough breath left), you will be able to explore the ancient fort.
4.2. Punctuation in greetings and closings
English has standard rules for greetings and closings. Whether formal or informal, the initial letters of every significant word in the greeting is capitalised; only the first word of the closure is capitalised. They are both followed by a comma.
✘ dear sir or madam
✓ Dear Sir or Madam,
✘ yours sincerely
✓ Yours sincerely,
✘ very best,
✓ Very best,
5.1. Grammatical and Lexical Registers
Register refers to the level of formality used in the text. It shows how our clients address their customers and contributes to the voice of the brand itself. Register may vary depending on the company, the brand, the service they offer, the customers, and the target language.
We make a first main distinction between grammatical and lexical register: the first one regards the use of pronouns and verb person (for the languages to which this morphological feature is applied), while the latter is related to lexical choices, since some words and expressions also have a degree of formality or colloquialism.
Both these registers are also divided into formal and informal, as shown below.
5.2. Formal Register
Type of Register
Dear Dr. Dupont,
Not used in formal writing
5.3. Informal Register
Type of Register
Use of verbal contractions: can't; don't; mustn't; I'm; you're
6. Localization challenges
6.1. Proper nouns
Proper nouns refer to unique entities, such as persons, places, organizations, brands, events, etc. As foreign proper nouns are concerned, languages may adopt different rules regarding whether they should be translated or kept in the original language. When editing a text, you should follow your language’s rules for all different types of proper nouns listed below. However, please note that if there is a glossary provided by the client that includes these types of units, you should always apply the glossary items.
With a few exceptions (biblical characters and certain historical characters), proper names are not translated into an English form.
Source text (FR): Bonjour Guillaume, Je serais ravie de pouvoir vous aider.
✘ Hello William, I would be delighted to help you.
✓ Hello Guillaume, I would be delighted to help you.
Where names of countries and large cities have an obvious English equivalent, this should be used, but in general less globally known place names should be left in their original form.
Source text (IT): Val d’Aosta
✘ The Valley of the Aosta
✓ Val d’Aosta
With machine translation, serious errors can easily arise through ‘translation’ of place names.
Example: Source text (IT): Il terremoto dell’Aquila del 2009
✘ The earthquake of the Eagle of 2009
✓ The L’Aquila earthquake of 2009
Global organizations should have their names or acronyms translated into the English equivalent.
Source text (FR): OMS (Organisation Mondiale del la Santé)
✓WHO (World Health Organisation).
Government ministries should be translated, even when there is not an exact equivalent in the USA or UK:
Source text (FR): Ministère de l'Interieur
✓ Ministry of the Interior
Other organisations should normally be left in the original language, but glossed with an English explanation in brackets.
Source text (IT): CONSOB (La Commissione Nazionale per la Società e la Borsa)
✓ CONSOB (the National Commission for Companies and the Stock Exchange)
6.1.4. Brands and products
Brand names should always be left untranslated, provided that is the name by which they are internationally recognized (e.g. Sony, Yamaha, Stiga Stjärnsunds)
6.1.5. Other entities
Major international events normally have an English equivalent, and these should be used.
Source text (FR): Festival de Cannes
✓Cannes Film Festival
Certain international events are never translated.
Source text (FR): Le Tour de France
✓The Tour de France
Local events should be left in the original with an English gloss in brackets
Source text (FR): Sarlat Périgord Noir—Fête de la Truffe
✓ Sarlat Périgord Noir—Fête de la Truffe (Truffle Festival at Sarlat)
6.2. Acronyms and initials
Acronyms should always be translated when there is an English equivalent. Note that in English, acronyms are normally given in capitals.
Source (FR): un financement du SIDA
✘ Sida funding
✓ AIDS funding
6.3. Date format
Although UK English uses the same date format as other languages, that is, dd/mm/yy, US English, which is normally Unbabel's default variety, uses the format mm/dd/yy.
In US English, therefore, the 23rd of March, 2018 is written 03/23/2018.
In UK English it is written 23/03/2018.
6.4. Time format
English differs from other languages by using, in general, the 12-hour clock with an a.m./p.m. (ante-meridien - before midday; post-meridien – after midday) format.
a.m. and p.m. are always preceded by a white space and written, as shown, with full stops in US English:
5.22 = 5.22 a.m.
17.22 = 5.22 p.m.
8.00 = 8.00 a.m.
20.00 = 8.00 p.m.
✘ Bookings for the same night should be made before 19h.
✓ Bookings for the same night should be made before 7.00 p.m.
NOTE: In the 12 hour system, numbers are not used to express noon or midnight.
✘ The meeting began at 9.45 a.m. and ended at 12.00.
✓ The meeting began at 9.45 a.m. and ended at noon.
Measures should always keep the format of the source text and should never be converted. You should only translate them when they have an equivalent term in your language.
Measurement abbreviations, such as kg., lb., ft., km., m., etc. are preceded by a white space and followed by a full stop and do not, in US English, use a plural form in writing (although in UK English the plural form is often used).
That is, although when we write out in full we have the plural form (and also in speech), the abbreviation doesn’t have the ‘s’.
The running track is 2 kilometres long / the running track is 2 km.
✘ The recipe requires 2 pts of stock into which you stir 8 gms of spelt.
✓ The recipe requires 2 pt. of stock into which you stir 8 gm. of spelt.
Note that the currency symbol always proceeds the currency amount and is NOT followed by a white space
✘ £ 250; $ 500; € 750
✓ £250; $500; €750
Also, you should always keep currency initials (USD, GBP, RUB, INR, DKK, NOK, etc.) as they are a convention accepted worldwide. The symbol usually occurs before the amount, followed by a whitespace.
✓ USD 2.5 million
7. Tricky cases
One of the most problematic issues when translating to English regards word order. While English word order is less rigid than, for example, German word order, it is far less flexible than Romance languages such as Italian and Spanish.
Source text (DE): Ob ich ein bier will?
✘ Do I a beer want?
✓ Do I want a beer?
A competent editor's job is to ensure that word order always reflects that of a native speaker. This will often mean restructuring a sentence.
The possibilities of unnatural word order are many, so here we give two simple cases as examples:
- Simple English sentence with a transitive verb
The normal word order in a simple English sentence with a transitive verb is the following:
subject (noun or pronoun) + verb, followed by object of the verb and, optionally, adverb or adverbial phrase.
✓ You [subject] will find [transitive verb] several restaurants [object] close by [adverbial phrase].
✘ You will close by several restaurants find.
However, the order where the adverb precedes the subject and the verb is also acceptable
✓ Close by you will find several restaurants.
When the verb also has an indirect object, it normally follows the direct object:
✓ Guests [subject] should return [transitive verb] their keys [object] to the reception desk [indirect object] before midday [adverbial phrase].
while the following structure, while perfectly understandable, is not natural English and is clearly a translation.
✘ Guests before midday should to the reception desk their keys return.
Computerised translation tools are often unable to get the order correct.
Source text (IT): Ai prodotti riservati a te verrà applicato il prezzo più basso.
✘ To the products reserved for you will be applied the lower price.
✓ The lower price will apply to your reserved items.
- Simple question
The English question, whether preceded by a question adverb (how? what? why? when? where?) normally uses an auxiliary verb together with the main verb, with the subject between the auxiliary and main verb:
✘ How I get information on the water taxis?
✘ How to get information on the water taxis?
✓ How can [auxiliary verb] I [subject] find out [verb] about the water taxis?
8. Most frequent errors
In addition to the many errors shown in the examples above, errors in translation often arise from inappropriate word choice, literal translation, particularly of courtesy formulas, and idiom and sayings.
- Inappropriate word choice
Machine translation, even when of a high standard, sometimes takes the first dictionary definition of a word, not always appropriate in the target language.
Source text (IT): al momento del ritiro del pacco [the context is that of a parcel being returned to sender. The parcel will be collected by a courier, who will provide the return label]
✘ when the package is withdrawn
✓ when the package is collected
- Literal translation
In addition to the normal problems of over-literal translation, in French correspondence, for example, much use is made of formulas of courtesy, which should never be translated literally into English. Instead, the corresponding English courtesy should be used.
Source text (FR): Je vous invite à consulter votre courriers indésirables.
✘ I invite you to consult your undesirable couriers.
✘ I invite you to check your spam folder.
✓ Please check your spam folder.
✓ I suggest that you check your spam folder.
- Idioms and sayings
These can only very rarely be translated literally. Occasionally there will be an equivalent English saying, but otherwise, one needs simply to express the intended meaning.
Source text (IT): dobbiamo ingoiare il rospo
✘ We have to swallow the toad.
✓ We have to bite on the bullet.
✓ We have to put up with it.
9. Useful online resources
English verb conjugator
English grammar guide