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There are a lot of questions still left up in the air in relation to how something should be translated, especially when it comes to translating into English. "Should it be in US English or UK English (or International English)?" is a question I constantly have to ask my clients. With the help of the following graphs and tables I hope to shed some light on the darker, less accessible areas of English grammar. Let's hope it comes in handy.

Before we start though, I'd like to mention: Lynne Truss' best-selling, yet reasonably vague, grammar compendium, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, has itself been accused of linguistic Stalinism (See Ian Sansom's article in Sunday edition [Feb 11, 2006] of The Guardian) for its attempts at setting down rules on how things should be written and that these rules must be adhered to. According to David Crystal, whose book is reviewed in Sansom's article) it is this boxing-in of the English language and non-embracing of the fact that languages are constantly changing that are the main flaws: "Language change is inevitable, continuous, universal and multidirectional. Languages do not get better or worse when they change. They just - change."

Personally, I don't deny that languages are changing, but surely, as a translator, it's a good thing to have a set of rules to tell you how to write correctly (although Truss' chapter on commas doesn't really make it much clearer).

With that in mind, the following topics will hopefully clear up any problem areas that you may have been unsure about when translating (they may, however, become obsolete in a few years, who knows?)

Abbreviations and Acronyms - What are the standards? 

US
·         Use full stops with abbreviations
·         Do not use full stops in abbreviations, or spaces between initials:

US, 10 am, No 1, EJ Hoover

Exceptions: e.g./ etc. / i.e. / col. / p. / pp. / no.
UK

·         Use full stops between initials:

U.S, 10 a.m., E.J Hoover

Exceptions: Do not use full stops if e.g., the company you are referring to does not - 'BBC' remains 'BBC'.

Capitalisation - When and when not to capitalise

After Colons

If introducing a list with a colon, it is followed by a lower case character:

He had to buy the following: milk, bread, cheese.

If introducing a sentence, an upper case character follows:

We have already touched on this point: Electricity is not something you want to mess with.

North...south

North, South, East and West are capitalised if they make up part of a title of an area or political division but not if they are used in a descriptive sense: 

East Germany, South-east Asia, Northern Ireland, but not: northern Germany, eastern France

Peoples' titles 

When a title appears as part of a person's name, it is capitalised: 

            US Secretary of State Colin Powell

Captions and Headings 

Captions: You should not use a full stop at the end of a caption unless the text is a full sentence. 

Headings: 

US

Use a capital only for the initial character of the heading and proper nouns: 

Understand and be understood by everyone

UK

Capitalise the first, last, and important words in a title:

Understand and be Understood by Everyone

Currencies - What are the standards?           

Currencies should be written in lower case when the whole word is used: 
euro, pound, dollar etc. 

Dollars are abbreviated like this:

·         US dollars: US$50

·         Australian dollars: A$50

·         Hong Kong dollars: HK$50

For writing euro currencies:

Singular

cent, euro 
Plural
cents, euro
€4.50 (preferred), EUR 4.50 (if the font does not support the symbol)

Italics - When to use them

Should be avoided, but are acceptable for:

·         Non-English
·         The titles of books, periodicals, newspapers, films, plays and television programmes etc.
·         The names of vessels and aeroplanes (but not the names and numbers of types of aircraft such as Boeing 707 or Hercules carriers)

Italics should not be used for the following: 

·         Non-English names of organisations, institutions, firms, ministries etc.
·         Emphasis

Numbers           

Numbers expressed in words           

Spell out numbers to ten inclusive; thereafter use numerals (the exceptions being with units, e.g., 2 kg, 5 oz).

Numbers expressed in figures 

Numbers between 10 and 999,999 should normally be expressed in figures.

The following are always expressed in figures:                       

·         ratios
·         times of day
·         numbers with decimal
·         statistics
·         degrees
·         dimensions
·         weights and measures

Millions 

Numbers in millions should be written as follows: 1 million, 3.4 million 
Exception: 3,432,000 (if there is more than one digit to the right of the decimal point). 

Billions and trillions 

In strict British English usage 'billion' is equivalent to a million million;

in American usage, it is equivalent to a thousand million. 

Time of day 

UK

9 am, 3:15 pm

US

9 a.m., 3:15 p.m.

Dates           

To avoid international confusion, it is preferable to write the date in full:                       

Friday, 15 January 2004           

Decades           

Reference to decades should be expressed in figures           

the 1990s, the mid-1990s
(not the nineteen-nineties, the 90s or the 1990's).

Fractions           

Fractions should be spelled out:                       

three quarters of the amount

However, numbers with fractions should be written in figures:                       

1 3/4 km 

Fractions should only be hyphenated when used as an adjective    

three quarters of the amount

three-quarters full

Place Names and Addresses - Do I add the country? 

When translating you should bear in mind that your target audience may not be familiar with the places. When referring to somewhere for the first time you should always give its country, even if the original text does not. For example:

Source Text: Der in KFln regierende BLrgermeister...

Translation: The mayor of Cologne (Germany)... 

Punctuation  

Apostrophes

Some plural nouns take an apostrophe before the 's':

children's games, gentlemen's outfitter, old folk's home.

Apostrophes should be used in phrases such as 12 years' imprisonment and 200 hours' community service.

A common mistake is often made with it's and its. The difference: 'Its' is the third person possessive form of 'it'. 'It's' is the contracted form of 'it is' and should only be used in speech:

The car is blue. Its wheels are black.

"It's very sunny today".

Colons

You should not overuse the colon. This is very popular in German texts, where a simple full point and new sentence would suffice in English.

Commas

UK

In a series of three or more items with a conjunction, use a comma after each item except the one preceding the conjunction and the last item:

This machine offers a number of advantages: ease-of-use, economy, speed and flexibility

US

Use the commas after each item, including the one preceding the conjunction and the last item:

This machine offers a number of advantages: ease-of-use, economy, speed, and flexibility

Types of English

Clients can ask for three kinds of English:

1.      US English
2.      UK English
3.      International English

The third category is a little vague, but generally it means the client wants a text that will be understood by all kinds of English speakers. The text should therefore be easy to read and not be 'obviously' British or American in style. It is up to the client to decide whether 'international English' uses UK or US spelling, so you should probably check this before beginning.

John Neilan, M. Litt.

 










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