Proofreading prompts — Part II grammatical glitches

January 26, 2024 by Alison Tunley

Get a Free Quote

Our Accreditations

  • ATA Logo
  • ATC Logo
  • BSI 9001 Logo
  • BSI 9001 Logo
  • DIN EN 15038 Logo

Recent Updates

Culture-bound syndromes and how language shapes illness

In her book Sleeping Beauties, neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan explores the phenomenon of culture-bound illnesses around the world. The conditions she is interested in are psychosomatic disorders which arise due to a complex interaction between the mind and body, but… Read More

In Part II of our proofreading checklist, we run through some obvious grammatical glitches that can afflict translated text.

Word order

Sticking ruthlessly to the word order in the source text can result in stylistic oddities. A text I recently reviewed contained the German phrase emotionale Negativmomente, and my instinct was that the phrase sounds rather odd when translated as emotional negative moments and is better reordered as negative emotional moments. A quick Google search confirms that hunch, with zero hits for the former compared with a couple of thousand for the latter. Grammatical order is not always explicable or logical, but in this case my hunch is that while you can clearly have an emotional moment that is either negative or positive, I am not sure how you could have a negative moment that does not involve emotion. (The same logic does not appear to apply to the German!).

Clunky phrasing

Jarringly inelegant phrasing is usually a sign that the translator has been overly influenced by the source language. For example, the German “Der Austausch zwischendurch ist goldwert” rendered as “The exchange in between is worth its weight in gold” rather than a more idiomatic rephrasing such as “Occasional conversations are worth their weight in gold”. These are perhaps best captured by repeatedly asking yourself whether a native speaker would ever express themselves this way. Another good trick is to explain out loud whatever message is being communicated, often that forces you to focus on the substance of the text without the tell-tale unorthodox phrasing.

Definite/indefinite articles

This is a common difference between languages and a surprisingly common stylistic flaw in translation given how easy it is to fix. For example, the German “Ein gelungenes Lichtdesign” sounds odd when translated literally as “A successful lighting design” and is much more likely to be written in English without the indefinite article, “Successful lighting design”.

Avoid tautology, even if they do it in the original

German seems to tolerate repetition within a sentence in a way that English does not, commonly throwing in a redundant auch (also/too) following another word with essentially the same meaning, e.g. zudem. Another good example of this cropped up in a recent review where the German sentence described the importance of “sorgfältige Planung …. in Vorfeld” which translates literally as “careful planning in advance”. This begs the question what kind of planning is not done in advance? Once planning is mentioned in English, the information provided by in advance is redundant and is best removed. Translated content should be subject to the same stylistic standards that would apply to any text, and meaningless repetition is unlikely to slip past an eagle-eyed editor.


Languages differ in their punctuation style, and it is easy for the translator to be overly influenced by the source text. The proofreading phase is a chance to eradicate “foreign” punctuation influence. In German texts, it is common to find excessive use of the em dash, where English might prefer a simple comma. German paragraphs also sometimes end with a colon to indicate that what follows is linked to the previous text. This looks odd in English, where a full stop is generally expected if there is an intervening paragraph break.

Using reviewing tasks as a chance to build up your own personal proofreading checklist is an invaluable way to improve the quality of your translation.


Image: Unsplash

Share This Post


Add Comment

Andreea Mohan

Taylor Wessing LLP

We are very pleased with the services provided by Rosetta Translations. They always send very prompt responses, transparent prices and deliver their work product at the highest standards.

More Testimonials

Jackie Brook, Sr Product Manager

American Express

Thank you very much for your prompt and efficient service.

More Testimonials

Conor McLarnon

Maximus Crushing and Screening

I have translated multiple projects with Rosetta now and I cannot emphasise how great the service they provide is; quality, turnaround time and pricing is the best I have found yet. The qualities of translations we receive are of the highest standard and communication from the start of a project to the end is consistent.

For a company looking into translations, I would highly recommend Rosetta as first pick, as the support and service they provide is first class.

More Testimonials

Get a Free Quote

© 2024 All Rights Reserved
Rosetta Translation, 133 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QA · 0207 248 2905