Hello and welcome to my new article. The last one can be found here.


The topics I shall cover this month are once again errors that I commonly find and have cropped up recently as well as frequently in the past. Please take note and thereby help yourself to improve your scores. (In case you ever thought otherwise, I really prefer checking error-free translations, as it is far less work for me. Although of course I have to mark errors as such, my ideal check contains none at all, and I don’t seek out mistakes that aren’t there. The aim of Gengo’s checks is, essentially, to improve the quality of translations.)


One issue that crops up far too often is that of hyphens/dashes. You can find the rules governing the use of hyphens, em dashes and en dashes in the Gengo style guide. Generally speaking, only the en dash is used in GB English, but while a hyphen is used to join two words, a dash should be used in other cases. The style guide tells you how to create a dash, although if you are working in Word (as you might for a text job) your computer will do it for you.


The subject of prepositions is a huge one that cannot be covered in a short text such as this. However, there are some instances that I see repeatedly, including the translation of “von”. For instance:


German: Bestellung von Artikel


English translation: Order from item.


This translation is incorrect. In this case, “von” should be translated as “of”:


Order of article.


“Von” can mean “from”, “of”, “by” or “out of”, and the correct translation is dependent on the context in each case.


German: Romeo und Julia von William Shakespeare


translates, of course, as


English: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.


So, in every case where “von” refers to an author or other artist, you know that the English is “by”, while the first example above shows a different context. I can only recommend that you make yourself aware of the meanings of different prepositions – this, for example, compares “by” and “from”. There are plenty of online resources that can help.


Another German preposition that does not always translate exactly is “für”. Take this example:


German: Die Beziehung zu der neuen Schulerin ergibt für mich für die Handlung wenig Sinn


English translation: The relationship with the new pupil doesn’t really make much sense for me in the context of the plot.


Looking only at the use of “for” in this sentence (and not worrying about the rest of the translation), you should be able to recognise that the preposition used should actually be “to”. While the sense conveyed is not actually lost, the English text sounds very much like a translation because of the incorrect preposition, and an important factor in translation is to produce a text that reads as if it were written in the source language in the first place. The little things really do make a big difference.


Another big topic I can only cover briefly is that of verb tenses. The use of the simple past versus the present perfect in German is far less regulated than in English. English also has the progressive form which German does not, and its use is very specific. The following example is in the past tense and the translation used the past progressive:


German: haben die [sic] erst ein bisschen geziert


English: at first they were making a bit of a fuss about it


The tense used in this case should have been the simple past:


at first they made a bit of a fuss about it,


because, as well as having happened in the past, this relates to a specific time (which is not always as simple as a day, date, or hour of the day, but can be attached to an event referred to earlier in the text – I recommend, once again, looking at online resources such as this one for a better explanation). The progressive tenses have their own rules, of course. Simply put, the present progressive is used for something that is happening at the moment (e.g. “I am sitting at my computer typing this article”) and the past progressive is never used on its own – see this explanation.


One last reminder: please be sparing with exclamation marks. If your German text is littered with them, take all or at least most of them out. In English they make it look as if you are shouting, in the same way as overuse of capital letters does. They have their place, but their place is not at the end of almost every sentence (!). Here is a short guide on their proper use.


That’s it for this article. I hope you are keeping cool in every sense of the word, especially if you are in the northern hemisphere at the moment. And please do feel free to comment on, criticise or ask questions about this article. It helps to know that it is being read and making you think.


  • 2

    Thanks for all of these articles and the helpful tips they contain! I've saved several of them in my browser's bookmarks as a handy reference :-)

  • 1
    Sarah (DE>EN language specialist)

    Thank you for your feedback. I'm happy you find my articles helpful.

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