Hello, a happy New Year, and welcome to my latest post in this series. You can find my two previous articles here and here. This time, I am going to look at a few common errors that have cropped up in recent translations. Please note that in some of the examples there may be errors remaining from the source text I have used, so any errors in the German are not mine!


One error that happens too often is omitting a word or phrase. This can change the meaning of the translation; sometimes only slightly, but often seriously. Two examples are shown below:


Allerdings hat sich leider nichts getan


translated as


However, they didn’t do anything




Und am PC habe ich jetzt wieder eine ganze andere Reihe von Bildern…


translated as


And on my PC I have a number of images…


As you can see, in the first example the word omitted (highlighted in bold) makes only a small difference to the sentence, while in the second the change in meaning is considerable. So please read the original carefully against your version and check that you haven’t left anything out before you submit your translation.


The following example is only the translation, as this illustrates a single sentence which was translated rather too literally, and also introduced an extra error.


The uncomplicated handling and how quickly singles found partners there was particularly convincing.


In this case the verb does not agree with the two subjects, both of which would sound better rephrased. I would suggest writing the sentence as follows:


The ease of use and the speed with which singles found partners were particularly convincing.


If I were to nit-pick a little, I would also use another word instead of “convincing”, which is often literally translated but sounds a bit off to the native speaker, although in this case it fits the meaning well enough not to be a problem.


Another issue I see frequently is failure to translate acronyms or even words, so the meaning is not clear to a reader who does not understand German. A couple of examples are:


EF no. 642 … + no. 863 MEF


These come from an auction listing. “EF refers to “Einzelfrankatur” (“single franking”) and “MEF” to Mehrfachfrankentur” (“multiple frankings”). Please always check whether abbreviations or acronyms are the same in German as in English and, if not, take care to translate them. Remember that you are translating for customers who may well not understand any German.


Please remember, too, to read any instructions the customer has left for you, and follow them. If you are told to keep to the same number of sentences as in the original, you need to do so, even if it means making a longer sentence than you normally would. If you don’t you will lose marks, and this goes for any failure to follow instructions.


Be familiar with the Gengo style guide and always bear it in mind. For instance, be careful to use the correct number and currency formats, use a dash not a hyphen where appropriate, and use the correct style for the text you are translating. This is often an issue with letters, whether they are meant to be sent online or in written form. The following can be used as a guideline:


If in doubt, err on the formal side. If the German version uses “Sie”, then obviously the tone should remain formal. Even if “du” is used, you should be careful to gauge your style correctly. Unless you are translating correspondence between people who obviously know each other personally, it is best to refrain from using salutations such as “Hi” (the exception being if the same salutation is used in the original), or finishing the letter off with anything less formal than “Kind regards”. There are, of course, rules for formal salutations and closures to letters. Be aware of these and, if in doubt, check.


Finally, not everyone is aware that adjectives generally follow a specific order in English. It isn’t something that is usually taught but it comes naturally to native English speakers, most of whom don’t even know why they use a certain order. The order is:


  1. Quantity or number
  2. Quality or opinion (e.g. beautiful, cute, wonderful)
  3. Size (e.g. big, small)
  4. Age
  5. Shape (e.g. round, square, heart-shaped)
  6. Colour
  7. Proper adjective (e.g. nationality, other place of origin, or material)
  8. Purpose or qualifier (e.g. sports)


Therefore, the sentence “He has a lovely little old sports car” sounds right, while “There is a red big old house on the corner” doesn’t. I frequently find that a translator has used adjectives in the wrong order (usually simply by copying the word order used in the original), so it is useful to learn the order if you didn’t already know it.


I hope you find this useful and, once again, I would welcome any comments or questions. Have fun with your translations.



  • 2
    Heike S.

    Hello Sarah, thank you for another interesting article! Even though I don't translate from German into English for Gengo, but only the other way round, I find your tips very helpful. May I ask which word you would have used instead of "convincing"?

  • 2
    Sarah (DE>EN language specialist)

    Hello Heike

    Thank you for your reply and your positive comments. In this particular case, if I were to choose a single word to substitute for "convincing", the one that comes to mind is "impressive". Otherwise the sentence could be rephrased to something like "Plus points of this site include the the fact that is is so easy to use, and the speed with which singles found partners". In many cases, a freer translation such as the latter is a better way to translate "überzeugend".   

    Edited by Sarah (DE>EN language specialist)
  • 1
    Heike S.

    Thank you!

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