Greetings all! My name is Kevin and I’m a language specialist from Ireland. As LS in Spanish/French – English language pairs, our paths will no doubt have crossed at some point but I’m very pleased to be able to communicate with you by way of this forum also. I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss some common errors I encounter regarding syntax and punctuation which are easy to avoid.

As you know, in our profession we will encounter source texts of all sorts, from amazingly well written and literate texts, to those which are more basic and less carefully put together. However, I will always remember what one of the professors on my translation course told me early on: the quality of writing in a translation will often be better than that of its source text. I find that this can tend to be most evident when looking at aspects relating to syntax and punctuation, areas to which language professionals are trained to pay more attention than a “layperson”.

What this often entails in practice is being careful to spot when there are errors in the source text and not repeating these errors in your translation. This can be as simple as:

  • Making sure the first letters of sentences are capitalized.
  • Making sure that sentences end with full stops or periods, regardless of whether or not this the case in the source text.

However, another - perhaps less obvious - tip for improving translations relates to syntax. I’m sure you have come across source texts containing sentences which continue across multiple lines; sentences where, when you reach the end, you may have lost track of what the author is trying to say and have to go back to the beginning to try and get more clarity.

This kind of writing can sometimes be due to a stylistic decision made by the author in order to convey a certain feeling and achieve a certain effect. What’s more, Spanish and French can be a little more forgiving in this regard, with more leeway given for longer sentences, a greater number of clauses and more “flowery” syntax. In English, perhaps for cultural reasons (regarding which some of you readers may have an opinion!), we tend to be more economical and to like our sentences shorter.


On the other hand, it is often simply due to the fact that the author just hasn’t paid much attention to these aspects. If we are not careful, we can end up the next link in this chain and be responsible for passing on our own confusion to the end-reader! Remember: it is our job to be extra alert in our efforts to maintain or ensure clarity and readability.


Ensuite de ça les difficultés je dirais que c'est peut-être l'inflation, de tout qui est en train d'augmenter à un très très haut prix, tout est plus cher, donc c'est plus ça aussi.

Then what is tougher, I would say that is perhaps the inflation, everything is going up to a very very high price, everything is more expensive, so there’s that as well.

This recent example from the FR-EN language pair features a mild case of what I’m referring to, and I’m sure some of you may argue that the translation is a faithful and accurate one. However, we can still see how the reader might reach the end of the sentence slightly confused and “out of breath”, as it were! And remember, if we can improve on the source text in terms of readability, we should.

My tip here would be, where possible, to break sentences like these up into shorter sentences or by adding semi-colons, ensuring that the intended meaning and emphasis remains:

Next, as for difficulties, I’d say perhaps inflation: prices are going up and up and everything is more expensive. So, there’s that as well.

 This is a neater version, as I’m sure you’ll agree! The sentences are shorter and the syntax clearer, while the intended meaning and tone are maintained.

What do you think? Have you come across sentences such as these in your work? Were you hesitant to add punctuation or alter the syntax? And do you have any insight into why it might be the case that in English we tend to prefer shorter sentences which contain less clauses than languages such as French and Spanish?

I hope this article is of use and happy translating!


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