7 American vs British English
8 German terms
10 Financial texts
11 Legal / formal texts
This Style Guide is not primarily designed as a monolingual guide for writing in English, but as a guide for those translating from German into English.
The intention is to produce clarity and consistent style in LingServe translations as far as possible. Due to the evolution, wide geographical range and diverse contemporary applications of the English language, its orthography, grammar and style are codified to a much lesser extent than many other languages. The aim of this style guide is not therefore to prescribe ‘correct’ usage, but merely to achieve consistent usage in LingServe translations. In terms of vocabulary, always bear in mind that the need for consistency has to be balanced with the need for variety and the avoidance of repetition.
All the comments in this style guide are intended to be used as a guide only, and should not be followed where the context makes them inappropriate or there are customer-specific or job-specific instructions to the contrary.
No language is static and, broadly speaking, LingServe takes a progressive view in terms of adopting and adapting to changes in language. Where such change leads to a diminution of clarity or precision, however, LingServe policy is to resist such change. In the context of translation, there are good, practical reasons for this approach.
We do not adhere to outdated, Latin-derived rules of English grammar, preferring to be guided instead by contemporary standard usage. To quote Noam Chomsky:
“The intuition of a native speaker is enough to define the grammaticalness of a sentence; that is, if a particular string of English words elicits a double take, or feeling of wrongness in a native English speaker, it can be said that the string of words is ungrammatical.”
Because this viewpoint is almost diametrically opposed to the standard view of some people that language is governed by fixed and immutable rules, it is particularly important that we have a set of guidelines to which we can refer and consistently adhere.
Any comments or suggestions for future updates are gratefully received and should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the dynamic nature of the English language and the fact that acceptable usage is constantly changing, we attempt to model our style primarily on current usage in the quality press in the UK.
Some sections of this guide have been adapted from the English style guide published by the EU translation department. The full version of that document is available on the internet at http://ec.europa.eu/translation/english/guidelines/documents/styleguide_english_dgt_en.pdf. The EU style guide is the only one listed here that is specifically aimed at translators. Other sources that have been used include the Guardian and Observer style guide (www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide), the Daily Writing Tips website (US-oriented) (www.dailywritingtips.com) and the Columbia Guide to Standard American English (http://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-columbia-guide-to-standard-american-english/9780231069892).
N.B. If you spot any errors / inconsistencies, they are almost certainly deliberate on our part and have been inserted so as to test your powers of observation. Please let us know so that we can remove them and put others in their place!
Use of commas with nouns in apposition
When the appositive noun (the second one) is essential to the meaning of the sentence, it is said to be ‘restrictive’. In that case, no comma is used. When the appositive noun provides additional information that could be omitted without altering the sentence’s main thought, it is said to be ‘nonrestrictive’ and commas are used.
There are a couple of simple tests that can be applied when deciding whether it is necessary to set off the second noun (in apposition) with commas.
a) The world’s top footballer, Lionel Messi, has been ruled out for a month due to injury.
b) The footballer Wayne Rooney has been suspended for three matches.
c) The footballer involved in the incident, Wayne Rooney, has been suspended for three matches.
Test 1: Is the noun notionally in brackets, as is the case in sentences a) and c)? If so, use commas.
Test 2: Is there just one (use commas) or multiple (do not use commas) possibilities for the noun in apposition?
Help to or help + bare infinitive: Both forms are grammatically correct, but preferred LS usage - for consistency - is the slightly more formal (and more standard GB English) ‘help to’.
Example sentence (from LS Style Guide): “Leaving out the full stops is more natural to the German reader’s eye, generally makes for a tidier appearance and can help to avoid space issues.”
Time phrases: Use apostrophes in phrases such as two days’ time, twelve years’ imprisonment and six weeks’ holiday, where the time period (two days) modifies a noun (time), but not in nine months pregnant or three weeks old, where the time period is adverbial (modifying an adjective such as pregnant or old) - if in doubt, test with a singular such as one day’s time, one month pregnant.
• six months’ paternity leave (time phrase modifying a noun)
• two nights’ bed & breakfast (time phrase modifying a noun)
• six months overdue (time phrase modifying an adjective)
Singular or plural
Singular when the emphasis is on the whole entity:
► Bayern Munich is a well-run football club.
► The Advisory Committee has met twice this year.
Plural when the emphasis is on the individual members:
► Bayern Munich are a well-organised team.
► A majority of the Committee were in favour.
Singular for countries, institutions and organisations:
► The United States is reconsidering its position.
► The Commission was not informed.
A singular verb is common in English with a double subject if it is felt to form a whole:
► Checking and stamping the forms is the job of the customs authorities.
Use the plural where it sounds intuitively right even if strictly grammatically incorrect, particularly where the verb is nominally governed by a singular collective noun but essentially refers to more than one thing:
► There are a number of new features.
► There are a whole host of reasons.
If a percentage is used with an uncountable or a singular noun the verb is generally singular:
►90 per cent of the land is cultivated.
If the noun is plural, the verb is plural:
►65 per cent of children play computer games.
Note: US usage differs – see singular verb form.
Graffiti, despite its plural origins, is singular. Ditto for data.
Social media is treated as a singular noun, however an exception may be made in instances where the text is clearly referring to a collection of different types.
As a general principle, do not feel bound by the punctuation of the source language. Punctuation rules and conventions vary from one language to another.
Possessive apostrophe for nouns ending in ‘s’
There are no definitive rules about whether or not to write a simple apostrophe (James’) or an apostrophe and ‘s’ (James’s). LingServe policy is to be guided by pronunciation and in the first instance - for consistency - with any specific entries in TermStar. Place names may have an established spelling and should be verified online if possible. Note that some place names omit the apostrophe altogether (e.g. Kings Cross).
In some cases, it might be advisable to avoid an awkward construction by simply reformulating:
e.g. ‘In Hugo Boss’s home town, just 30 minutes ...’
could be reformulated as ‘In the home town of Hugo Boss, just 30 minutes...’
The colon is used much more frequently in German and is often best omitted in English and replaced by a full stop, comma, semicolon or dash. One instance where a colon is used in English is where the second part of the sentence explains the first.
e.g. There were no cats in the house: the dog had chased them out.
Colons do not require the next word to start with a capital, although in some contexts this may be appropriate, e.g. where the word after the colon starts a new line or is essentially a new sentence. A typical example is the start of a press release:
Berlin, 17 July 2015: Transactions with a combined value of €7.33 billion were processed on the financial marketplace platform in the second quarter of 2015.
Note that US English tends to have a capital letter after a colon. In the following example, the colon would be followed by lower case ‘the’ in GB and ‘The’ in US:
Your training programme: the new, modular Skill Level course.
Use commas as an aid to understanding and readability but avoid unnecessary use. Commas can be useful in long sentences to improve readability, some may be critical to correct understanding, and some are applied simply by established convention. Often they can be considered optional and should then only be used to indicate a natural break or to help convey the meaning and emphasis that would be achieved through intonation in a spoken sentence. Some specific examples are provided below for guidance.
The following example illustrates how commas can be critical to the meaning of a sentence:
a) The chief choreographer fired all the dancers, who were women.
b) The chief choreographer fired all the dancers who were women.
Sentence a) implies that all the dancers were women and all of them were fired.
Sentence b) implies that all of the female dancers were fired but the male dancers were spared.
Opening salutations should be followed by a comma, both in standard correspondence and in publications directly addressing the reader.
Dear Mr Smith,
Contrary to standard German practice, the opening word of the following sentence should be upper case.
Closing remarks should also be followed by a comma:
Commas after introductions
Introductory clauses ‘set the stage’ for the main part of the sentence and start with adverbs such as after, although, as, because, before, if, since, though, until, when. This kind of introductory clause should be followed by a comma, as in the following examples:
After the cat sat on the mat, the dog began to bark.
Because the cat ran away, the mice were able to play.
Introductory phrases also set the stage for the main part of the sentence, but they are not complete clauses, i.e. they do not have a subject and a verb that are separate from the subject and verb in the main part of the sentence. Common introductory phrases include infinitive phrases, participial phrases, appositive phrases and prepositional phrases.
To keep in shape for the competition, athletes need to exercise every day. (Infinitive phrase, main clause)
Talking incessantly, Paul finally brought us round to his point of view. (Participial phrase, main clause)
A popular and highly decorated player, Gerrard was the clear favourite to become England captain. (Appositive phrase, main clause)
On this beautiful day, the cat sat on the grass outside. (Prepositional phrase, main clause)
Single introductory words, such as however, still, furthermore and meanwhile, require a comma, particularly considering the scope for ambiguity in their use (Still, the river flowed. vs. Still the river flowed.)
Furthermore, the economy is performing better than expected.
Meanwhile, the recovery in Japan now appears secure.
In indications of time, the LingServe convention is to use a comma in order to avoid ambiguity and to ensure consistency with other introductory phrases:
In 2011, the number of overnight stays rose by 10 per cent on the same period of the previous year.
Last year, the number of overnight stays by international visitors increased by 2 per cent.
Since the beginning of 2015, Toledo Corporation has been partnering with Toyota to deliver rental solutions for commercial vehicles.
For 2017, Germany Express is expecting its bus and coach business to deliver a steady performance at a high level.
Do not use a comma when the sentence begins with gerund or infinitive phrases, as in the following examples:
Stopping the cat from sitting on the mat was one of the biggest challenges for the owner of the house.
To stop the cat from sitting on the mat would be foolish.
Start footnotes with a capital letter (with the exception of lower-case abbreviations such as e.g., i.e., p.). End footnotes with a full stop (except those consisting solely of a URL or email address).
See section on American versus British English for guidance on the use of commas in lists.
The dash, or en-dash, can take the place of commas or parentheses, and in each case produces a slightly different effect. It is used with a space on either side.
The Roman Empire, which at the time was in decline, did its best to ward off the marauding forces from the North.
The Roman Empire – which at the time was in decline – did its best to ward off the marauding forces from the North.
At the time, the main source of nitrogen (an essential element for efficient agriculture) was guano.
At the time, the main source of nitrogen – an essential element for efficient agriculture – was guano.
The en-dash can also be used in place of the colon when you want to emphasise the conclusion of your sentence. It is considered less formal than the colon. Both the following sentences would be correct but each gives a slightly different effect.
The production team came to realise what it should have been focusing on the whole time – quality.
The production team came to realise what it should have been focusing on the whole time: quality.
Dashes are also used to indicate ranges in times of day and dates.
Do not mistake the en-dash (–) for the narrower hyphen (-) and the wider em-dash (—). The keyboard shortcuts for producing all three are as follows:
Hyphen: ALT 45
En-dash: ALT 0150
Em-dash: ALT 0151
The em-dash is used mainly in American english and unlike the en-dash is not preceded or followed by a space.
The team of government administrators responsible for diplomatic arrangements—so often maligned by their superiors—went a long way to securing their futures with the move.
LingServe does not use the em-dash but can do so if requested by a customer.
In headings and similar formulations, US English tends to use an upper case initial letter after the en-dash:
The Black Forest gateau – A true classic
The campaign 'Destination Germany – Nature at its best' was launched three years ago.
The reverse is true for GB English headings and similar formulations. However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule, and discretion can be applied if circumstances dictate.
No further full stop is required if a sentence ends with an abbreviation that takes a full stop (e.g. ‘etc.’) or a quotation complete in itself that ends in a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark before the final quotes:
e.g. Walther Rathenau once said: “We stand or fall on our economic performance.”
When using full stops as omission marks (aka ellipsis points), always use three points preceded by a hard space (Ctrl/Shift/Space). In MS Word, type the hard space and then use Alt + Ctrl + (full stop) to insert ellipsis points. If a sentence ends with an omission, no fourth full stop should be added. If any other punctuation mark follows, there is no space before it.
Note: within this document, any reference to ‘hyphen’ is the character on a standard keyboard between 0 and = (Bindestrich). Any reference to dash is the character created by the keystroke combination Alt+0150 (Gedankenstrich).
A general rule of thumb is that attributive compound adjectives should be hyphenated, but this is not a hard and fast rule.
► e.g. a unit-linked policy, a medium-sized company BUT a city centre location
Words that may be written either with or without a hyphen in GB English but generally without a hyphen in US English should be written without:
► e.g. cooperation, ongoing, coordination, proactive
In adverb-adjective modifiers, no hyphen is needed when the adverb ends in -ly:
► e.g. an occupationally exposed worker, a beautifully phrased sentence, a fully fledged investment banking institution
The compound adjectives “second-largest, third largest”, etc. should be hyphenated when used attributively.
► e.g. This is the second-largest park in the world.
Numbers are hyphenated when they are spelled out:
► e.g. twenty-eight, sixty-five
Written-out fractions should be hyphenated to emphasise the fact that they are being used as a single unit of measurement that therefore takes a singular verb. The hyphen should only be omitted when you are referring to the fraction as a separate entity rather than as part of something else:
► e.g. two-thirds of the bus was empty
► e.g. a two-thirds majority; an increase of three-quarters
► e.g. Gillian promised me two-fifths of her birthday cake
But: I was disappointed because neither of the two fifths had a cherry
Tip: If there appears to be subject/verb disagreement, it’s worth trying to rephrase the sentence to avoid it altogether. So the above example would become ‘The bus was two-thirds empty.’
Hyphenated compounds may be coordinated as follows:
► e.g. gamma- and beta-emitters, long- and short-term objectives
Where compounds are not hyphenated (close compounds), or should you choose to write them so, they should not be coordinated but written out in full:
► e.g. minicomputers and microcomputers, hardware and software, not mini- and microcomputers, hard- and software
Statements of distance used adjectivally should not be hyphenated on the grounds that the meaning is generally clear and it is aesthetically better:
► e.g. the 65 kilometre tourist route, the 100 metre high church spire
Note: A misplaced hyphen can completely alter the intended meaning, as illustrated by the following example (from the BBC website):
“Flying ant-spotters are being asked to submit their sightings throughout July and August on the Society of Biology’s website.”
The spotters in question actually remain firmly on the ground in order to observe flying ants.
The punctuation of the direct form of reported speech is an area where the house rules of publishers, editors and academic institutions vary immensely. LingServe takes the following approach.
Sentences that report direct speech have two parts - the reporting clause (‘he said’ etc.) and the actual words of the speaker.
In deciding the tense of the reporting clause we should, for pragmatic reasons, be guided by the tense of the source text. There is, however, certainly more of a propensity to use the present tense in German than in English, so this should not be considered a hard-and-fast rule. If past tense appears more appropriate in English despite the use of present in the German, it is OK to switch - but always with the necessity for consistency in mind.
The actual words of the speaker are always placed in speech marks (“”). The two parts of the sentence are generally separated by a comma. This comma is placed inside the speech marks when the reporting clause comes after the quote, as in the example below:
“The cat sat on the mat,” said John Smith.
The speech marks are preceded by a colon when the reporting clause comes before the quote.
John Smith said: “The cat sat on the mat.”
Note that the first letter of the speech being reported has an initial capital.
When the reporting clause interrupts the reported speech, the punctuation mark after it is governed by what follows. If the clause comes between two separate sentences of the speech, it is closed by a full stop. If the clause breaks a sentence of the speech, use a comma.
“The cat,” said John Smith, “sat on the mat.”
“The cat sat on the mat,” said John Smith. “It was a sight to behold.”
The comma is omitted in cases where the quote ends with a question mark or exclamation mark.
“The cat sat on the mat?” queried John Smith.
Speech marks/inverted commas
For reported speech, use double speech marks. There is perhaps a stronger preference for double speech marks in US English and single speech marks in GB English, but for ease and consistency we should adopt the same usage for both. For a quotation within a quotation, use single speech marks.
For titles of books, films, songs, art, TV shows, operas, etc., the use of initial caps is usually sufficient in English to make the title stand out from the surrounding sentence, whereas this may not be the case in German due to the capitalisation of all nouns. For example, the phrase Destination Germany stands out without the use of inverted commas. Single inverted commas can be used for titles where there is a particular need to distinguish an individual word or phrase from the surrounding text. If titles are written in lower case (e.g. the trade fair ‘transport logistic 2013’), use single inverted commas to distinguish it from the surrounding text. Double inverted commas should be reserved for reported speech.
Only use inverted commas where they are either necessary or helpful, i.e. where they are likely to aid the reader of the text. The source text should not be the basis for deciding whether or not to use speech marks - it may be necessary to add them in the translation where there were none in the source text or vice-versa.
Compound words / hyphenation
For the orthography of compound words in both US and UK English – i.e. whether these should be written open, closed or with a hyphen – we follow the guidance of the Oxford Dictionaries website. However, we reserve the right to make exceptions for style reasons. These exceptions will generally be documented here in the style guide or in our inhouse style conventions dictionary.
General circumstances requiring hyphenation include repetition of an ‘a’ or ‘i’ (e.g. anti-irritant) or potential ambiguity (re-count = count again, as opposed to recount = tell a story).
email rather than e-mail, but all other compounds (e.g. e-business, e-commerce) hyphenated and lower case.
-ise / ize
Both spellings are correct in British English, but the -ise form is the preferred LingServe spelling. Texts specifically requiring US English should use the -ize form. Note: there are some exceptions to this rule, e.g. ‘advertise’ in US English.
In general, the Russian letters ий at the end of a name should be written as y, with one exception: Юрий = Yuri (as two y’s in a short name looks strange). The letter й after any other vowel should be written as i.
Hence Yevgeny, Georgy, Dmitry, Vasili and Trotsky, but Alexei, Andrei, Sergei and the Bolshoi Ballet.
Names should also be spelt phonetically and as simply as possible: for example with the standard Russian e, pronounced ye, we should write Yegor not Egor and Yevgeny not Evgeny or Eugene. In the few cases where names are identical bar one character to western spelling, the western version should be used, e.g. Alexander not Alexandr.
An exception to the phonetic rule is the Russian letter ё (pronounced yo), which is generally transliterated into English as e. Notable examples include Gorbachev and Khrushchev.
Certain Cyrillic names have become established in their German (or French) transliterated form and that spelling should therefore be retained in English, e.g.: Wladimir Klitschko (rather than Vladimir Klichko) and Wassily Kandinsky (rather than Vasily). Such exceptions to the general rule are documented in our translation dictionaries.
Transliteration tables for Cyrillic and Greek can be found in the EU Style Guide.
The German Milliarde should always be translated as billion in English, i.e. the American and modern British usage = one thousand million. The old ‘British’ billion (i.e. one million millions) should be considered obsolete due to potential for misleading the reader.
Write out the words million and billion in continuous text. Do not use mio. The abbreviations m and bn can be used for sums of money (including euros) where space is an issue. It should be closed up to the figure (example: £370m, $230bn).
Numerals or words
There is a convention in English and German that the numbers zero to twelve should be written out in full and from 13 upwards as figures. This convention applies both to ordinal and cardinal numbers. It does not apply, however, in all contexts. In deciding whether to write numbers in words or figures, the primary consideration should be consistency within a text. However, we also strive to achieve consistency across all texts, hence the following general rules should be applied:
Use figures in tables, charts, etc. and write words out in full in continuous text.
1. Use figures when stating a range of numbers (e.g. 9-11).
2. Use figures when stating a percentage (e.g. 12 per cent) and when stating percentage points or basis points.
3. Use figures in conjunction with units of measurement (e.g. 5 kg not five kg; 10 m² not ten m²).
4. Use figures in tweets (to save space)
5. Use figures when stating scores for sports matches (e.g. Germany beat Brazil 7-1)
Hundreds/thousands/millions/billions: Unless the text is very statistical and full of numbers, the general rule for continuous text still applies of a preference for words over figures. With the exception of translating ‘TEUR’ etc. (see Currencies section), do not mix figures and words e.g. write 500/5,000,000 or five hundred/five million but not 5 hundred/5 million.
It is OK to mix figures and words where some numbers are whole and some have a decimal point, e.g.: “The number of overnight stays declined by 14.4 per cent from 5.8 million to five million.”
Try to avoid starting a sentence with numbers written as figures (including numbers prefixed with a currency symbol). It is OK if the number is written out as a word.
If figures are stated with a decimal point in the source text, it should be retained in the translation (even if the number after the decimal point is a zero).
Please note that references to graphical display resolutions do not use thousand separators:
The HD resolution of 1280 × 720 pixels stems from high-definition television (HDTV), where it originally used 60 frames per second.
It is common in German to use a one- or two-digit country code in addresses. This is not usual in English and should generally be replaced by writing out the name of the country beneath the town/postcode:
In addresses, where a German place name has an established English translation (e.g. Cologne for Köln), use this in all cases except when it comes up as part of a list of other international addresses featuring localised names (e.g. Praha instead of Prag). In these cases, retain the German (e.g. München instead of Munich).
Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren should generally be translated as Dear Sir or Madam, followed by an empty line and the initial letter of the first word of the next line in upper case.
Prof. Dr. H. Schmidt Prof. H. Schmidt
Herr (Frau) Dr. Müller Dr Müller
Dipl.-Ing. W. Braun Dipl.-Ing. W. Braun
As a general rule, use the symbol where one exists (e.g. €, £, $). Place the currency symbol in front of the amount. Where the German uses the comma and dash convention to indicate a round number, use a decimal point and two zeroes in English.
► 20,- € becomes €20.00
If the currency is written as a symbol (e.g. £, $, €), there should be no space between the symbol and the first figure. If the currency is written as an abbreviation (e.g. CHF, EUR), there should be a space between the currency abbreviation and the figure. Typing a hard space (Ctrl/Shift/Space) ensures the symbol and figure stay together if automatically carried over to the next line.
In the case of dollars, it is generally necessary to specify which national currency (US$ / AUS$ CAN$, etc). Although this ends with a symbol, for aesthetic reasons there should be a space before the figure.
Plus or minus signs should be in front of the currency symbol with no space: -€10,000. In continuous text, where it is clear from the context that a figure is negative, the amount should not have a minus sign in English (contrary to the normal German practice).
► e.g. ein Verlust in Höhe von - 10 Mio. € = a loss of €10 million
The plural of euro is euros, not euro. Lower case (also for dollars, pounds, yen, etc.); it should never be written as EURO (as is sometimes seen in German).
Historical currencies (e.g. deutschmarks, reichsmarks, French francs, Italian lira) should be written out (in Fliesstext) rather than abbreviated as readers, particularly foreign readers, will be increasingly unfamiliar with the now obsolete currency abbreviations.
There are many instances in English where it is more natural to leave out the GmbH / AG / e.V. etc. that denotes the legal form of a German company or organisation. Broadly speaking, we prefer to omit this in journalistic or more informal contexts and where the legal form of the company is of no significance. In more formal contexts, such as annual reports and press releases, we retain it.
The conventions for stating amounts in German differ from those in English which gives rise to problems with translation. As a fundamental rule, the English should never be more precise or less precise than the German figure (i.e. do not round up or down!) and anything more than three decimal places looks odd in English and should therefore be avoided.
In continuous text, change to € million (e.g. TEUR 2.754 = €2.754 million; note that the German thousand separator becomes a decimal point) or, for amounts up to TEUR 999, change to € thousand (e.g. TEUR 100 = €100 thousand). This should never be written as €100,000, as the German TEUR clearly implies rounding to the nearest thousand, which is not unambiguously the case if writing out 100,000.
In tables, if figures are stated in thousands, this format should be retained. The correct heading is €’000.
Ensure that the thousand separators and decimal separators are transcribed appropriately to the unit used.
If the figure stated in thousands extends into seven figures (i.e. a number in excess of one billion), state the figure in millions (e.g. TEUR 1.681.245 = €1,681.245 million). This avoids the problem of having six decimal places if the figure is stated in billions.
The abbreviation ‘K’ for thousand should only be used in English in the context of salaries (e.g. £30K).
Note: There is no space between the currency symbol (€/$/£ and the number in English).
Numbers may sometimes be stated in thousands of millions in German. In such cases, state the figure in billions in English, retaining the German thousand separator as a decimal point (e.g. 6.159 Mio. € = €6.159 billion).
Note that this method does not work if the German includes a figure after the decimal point (e.g. EUR 6.159,5 Mio.) as this would result in four decimal places in the English. In this instance it is therefore necessary to retain the German format for the figure and change the decimal point/comma accordingly (i.e. €6,159.5 million).
If the figure in German is stated in thousands of billions (e.g. '5.000 Mrd. €'), do not change to trillions in English, but retain as '€5,000 billion'. The reason for this deviation from the above procedure for millions/billions is that some readers may not know exactly what quantity a trillion signifies.
There should be a non-breaking space (ALT-0160) between the number and the abbreviated unit of measurement if the abbreviation is more than two characters in length or is two characters in length and contains a capital letter or Greek letter, e.g. 80 km/h, 50 mph, 50 kW, 205 µg.
If writing out numbers:
► €50.00 or fifty euros, not fifty EUR or fifty €
► 250 kW or two hundred and fifty kilowatts or 250 kilowatts but not two hundred and fifty kW
► 205 µg or two hundred and five micrograms
Do not combine single-digit figures and words using hyphens (e.g. a 2-hour journey) but write out:
► a three-year period; a five-door car
► a seven-year-old wine; two four-hectare plots
When two numbers are adjacent, it is often preferable to spell out one of them:
► ninety 50-gram weights; seventy 25-cent stamps
The use of initial caps is more common in US English than GB English, but there is no general consensus amongst different US style guides. The LingServe convention is therefore to use lower case (except the first word and proper nouns) in all cases, but with a measure of discretion to use capitals, for example to distinguish between main section headings and sub-headings where a document is broken down in that way, or if a customer specifies a different convention.
There should be no full stop at the end of headings or picture captions. As German has the same convention, if a German source text does have a full stop at the end of headings in order to create a particular effect, consider retaining this in the English
Conventions and advice vary on the use of punctuation and capitalisation in bulleted lists. Our rule of thumb is initial capitals in most instances, but lower case initial letters where a proper sentence is broken over several lines.
The plaintiff is entitled to compensation for the following reasons:
- He was married to the defendant for 20 years.
- He gave up his job at her request, so that she could progress in her career.
- He requires financial resources to re-train.
The plaintiff is entitled to compensation because
- he was married to the defendant for 20 years;
- he gave up his job at her request, so that she could progress in her career;
- he requires financial resources to re-train.
Note that in the second example, semicolons separate the items on the list and the sentence ends with a full stop. It helps if you imagine the same sentence written horizontally rather than vertically.
The first example consists of discrete sentences, so each starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. Shorter itemised lists do not require full stops.
Grounds for compensation:
- Long marriage
- Surrender of job
- Financial resources needed
Using the word 'include' in your opening sentence can make it hard to decide whether it is a 'completing the sentence' type of list or not, so if possible use an alternative formulation such as Grounds for compensation: / Grounds for compensation include the following:
Generally speaking, % should be used in tables, charts, etc. and per cent in continuous text. Try to be consistent even if the source text isn’t. Percent is US usage. There is no space between the number and the % sign. Use the % symbol in tweets to save space.
Telephone number formats
Unless a text is clearly for use within Germany only, insert the international dialling code with a ‘+’ in front of it to indicate the international exit code and placing the zero at the start of the city dialling code in brackets.
e.g. 069 12 34 56 -> +49 (0)69 123 456
No space between (0) and STD code and no spaces in the STD code.
Also note that German usage groups telephone numbers in pairs, whereas English tends to group them in blocks of 3 or 4 digits (e.g. (0 12 52) 33 60 52 cf. (01252) 336 052). If inputting text from hard copy, convert to English format. If overtyping, use your discretion depending on the amount of extra work involved and intended use (e.g. if purely for internal information, not important; if intended for publication, anglicise the format).
It is also common for German telephone numbers to include hyphens/slashes. These should be removed in English.
If a hyphen and slash are used to denote different extensions, use ‘or’ in English,
e.g. 069 / 123-456-10/-20 -> +49 (0)69 123 456 10 or 20
+49 (0)69 12345
+49 (0)69 123 456
+49 (0)69 123 4567
+49 (0)69 1234 5678
+49 (0)69 123 456 789
+49 (0)69 123 456 7890
Area codes should always be grouped in English, even if split it into pairs in German,
e.g. 0 45 54 70 56 533 -> +49 (0)4554 705 6533 (in this instance, the dialling code of Wittenborn is 04554).
Use the following abbreviation convention:
These may seem like unnecessary/inconsequential changes but all add to the overall impression of the text, making it appear less foreign and less ‘translated’ to the English-speaking reader.
An obvious exception to the above is where the number is clearly and exclusively intended for use by someone in a specific foreign country, where it would be appropriate to use, for example: +49 69 123 456.
A further exception is where numbers have clearly been grouped in a certain way for a reason (e.g. memorability or to indicate extensions after a root number). In these cases, the source language format should be retained.
To avoid any possible confusion for an international readership, change purely numerical dates in the source text to the following format:
► 31 December 2010 (not 31st or 31. December).
In this format, always use all four digits for the year. If space is an issue, use the following format:
► 31 Dec 2010
Any jobs that specifically require US English should show dates in the following format:
► December 31, 2010
If abbreviation is necessary, use the following format:
► Dec. 31, 2010
If abbreviated, days of the week and months should be reduced to three letters (with no full stop for GB English).
Ranges should use a closed-up en-dash (keyboard code ALT 0150):
Mar–Sep, Mon-Fri, 9am–5pm, 1–21 February 2016
Unless the phrase either side of the range consists of more than one element, in which case insert a space either side of the en-dash.
29 Jun 2013 – 29 Jun 2014
There is a comma between the day of the week and the date:
The fireworks display starts on Saturday, 11 August 2014 at approx. 10.40pm.
(US: The fireworks display starts on Saturday, August 11, 2014 at approx 10.40 p.m.)
If the date range is part of a sentence, it should be written out as ‘from 18 to 20 April’.
Anfang August = early August
Mitte August = mid-August
Ende August = late August
Unless it is clear from the context that Anfang/Ende really do refer to the first and last days of the month.
Use a closed-up en-dash (ALT 0150) for ranges. The century is only mentioned after the dash if it has changed:
►e.g. 1870–1901, 1905–10, 1914–18, 1996–2006
►from 1990 to 1995 (not from 1990–95)
►between 1990 and 1995 (not between 1990–95)
►1990 to 1995 inclusive (not 1990–95 inclusive)
Periods of time that span two calendar years such as sports seasons, financial years, etc. are denoted by a forward slash, e.g. 1990/91. Note that 1990–91 is two years. Single marketing years, financial years, etc. that do not coincide with calendar years are denoted by a forward slash, e.g. 1990/91, which is twelve months or less.
When referring to specific decades write out the first year of the decade in numbers followed by an 's' to indicate the plural. Do not use an apostrohe before the 's'. So 1990s instead of 90s. 1970s, 1880s, etc. Exceptions can be made for decades that have specific names, e.g. Swinging Sixties, Roaring Twenties, though these should only be used where it is appropriate to the source text.
By analogy with the numerals or words convention, centuries from the first to the twelfth should be written out in full, while centuries from the 13th upwards should be written as figures. So:
The church dates back to the eighth century
The palace is a masterpiece of 19th century architecture.
NB: We do not superscript th and st in references to centuries (e.g. 19th century, 21st century) but it would not be incorrect to do so.
AD precedes the year but follows the century. Our convention is to use it only for dates prior to 1000 where there might be some ambiguity regarding the period.
Bavaria's oldest monastic settlement was founded in AD 622.
The exhibition documents the period AD 300 to 900.
The site contains finds from the Roman settlements of the first three centuries AD.
AD means anno Domini, Latin for "in the year of the Lord", so an alternative translation would be "in the year XY".
The relic dates back to the year 622.
BC, which stands for Before Christ, follows the date.
a fourth-century BC sculpture
17th-century BC sculpture
5000 to 2000 BC
100 BC to AD 50
An alternative approach, favoured in academia, uses CE (meaning the Common Era and used in place of AD) and BCE (before the Common Era). However, because this usage is not yet widely established, LingServe continues to use AD and BC.
With the exception of translations for customers for whom US English is the default language (see customer-specific information in AVIS), use British English by default, unless US English is specified for the translation in hand or it becomes apparent during the course of translation that US English would be more appropriate (if in doubt, check). In the case of financial texts where companies are reporting to US GAAP use US English in order to avoid inconsistencies within the text.
Regardless of whether you are using GB or US English, always assume an international readership and try to use terminology that will be commonly understood. Avoid the obvious sporting analogies (e.g. batting on a sticky wicket), cultural references and colloquial language. Translations into English, particularly from German customers, are often not specifically for native English readers (US or British) at all, but for an international readership in general. In other words, the choice of US or GB English is often less related to the end use and readership of a text and more to do with the perceived preference of the individual customer, or in the case of GB English, simply the default applied by LingServe.
LingServe policy is to keep our versions of GB and US (and other country-specific) English as close to one another as possible and to restrict variations between them - as far as reasonably possible - to those rules that absolutely have to be adhered to such as spelling conventions (e.g. colour/color) and differing vocabulary (e.g. trunk/boot). Where American terms are becoming established in UK usage (or, less commonly, vice-versa), they should be used - in line with our policy of consistency (e.g. use ‘trade receivables’ rather than ‘trade debtors’ for ‘Forderungen aus LuL’ even in GB English). Where it is possible to use a neutral word (e.g. translating ‘Benzin’ as fuel rather than petrol or gas), this is the preferred option in all texts. For a list of individual spelling differences, see the Style conventions dictionary.
Abbreviations / acronyms
For the purposes of this style guide, no distinction is made between acronym and initialism. The term acronym applies to any compound created from initial letters, whether pronouceable or not.
Standard practice for the abbreviated forms of organisations, laws etc. is to write out the name in full on first mention, followed by the abbreviation in brackets, and to use the abbreviated form from that point. With online texts, or documents likely to be used for reference purposes, bear in mind that the reader may not read the entire text in linear fashion and apply this approach to each distinct section of the text.
Abbreviations (govt., dept., mgmt., etc.) should be written with full stops in both US and GB English.
Conversely, acronyms (USA, BBC, NATO) should be written without full stops between letters. They are often used in US English, but this is by no means universal and in declining use, and is not normal practice in GB English. Leaving out the full stops is more natural to the German reader’s eye, generally makes for a tidier appearance and can help to avoid space issues.
as of / as at
Only use ‘as of’ in the sense of ‘from this date forward’ and always use ‘as at’ to mean at a particular point in time (Stand 31. Dez. 2006 = As at 31 Dec. 2006). This is closer to standard British usage, but US usage of ‘as of’ could be confusing to a non-American.
Canadian vocabulary is largely identical to American; spelling conventions are a mixture of US and GB. For details, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_english.
Caps in headings/titles
Comma before the last item in a list
Unlikely to be noticed by any but the most pedantic reader, use a comma for US English (The farm has pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens.) but omit for GB English (The farm has pigs, goats, sheep and chickens.)
Conjugation of collective nouns
In GB English, collective nouns often take a plural verb (The jury return their verdict in the morning). In US English, collective nouns should always take a singular verb. (Source: Daily Writing Tips).
Date formats vary according to GB or US usage - see times of the day/dates in the Format section.
Time/date range: Use the American ‘through’ (e.g. November 15 through December 24) only if the text is exclusively for a North American readership. Use ‘to’ or avoid altogether by using a hyphen if for an international audience.
Note that standard US usage is not to use the preposition ‘on’ with reference to dates.
e.g. Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809.
The baseball game will be played Saturday, March 10.
But this format should only be used in texts exclusively for a North American readership.
Floors of buildings
A possible cause of genuine confusion. The appropriate translation will also depend more on the context in which the translation is being used. If someone is being directed to the first floor of a building in Germany, calling it the second floor (as per standard US usage) will only confuse. Only an issue if US English requested. Decide on case-by-case basis.
For Erdgeschoß, ‘ground floor’ would be the preferred generic translation as it is less potentially confusing to a US reader than ‘first floor’ would be to a non-US reader.
Full stops in titles, abbreviations and acronyms
In US English, titles (Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr.) are written with a full stop. In GB English, titles whose final letter is the same as that of the full word (Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr) are written without a full stop and those where the final letter of the abbreviated from is different to that of the full word (e.g. Prof., Capt.) are written with a full stop.
The abbreviation St for Saint is written without a full stop.
Either can be used in US English. For consistency in LingServe texts, always use the standard GB ‘named after’ in US and in GB English.
Outside / outside of
Always use ‘outside’ in both US and GB English.
Singular verb form
In standard US usage if an entity acting as the subject is in the singular, the verb will be in the singular form regardless of whether it implicitly relates to a number of individuals. So, for example, ‘Spain is a good soccer team.’
Words ending in ‘og(ue)’
Many sources indicate that either spelling (dialog/ue, catalog/ue, prolog/ue, etc.) is acceptable in US English, but the LingServe convention is ‘dialog’ for US English and ‘dialogue’ for GB English.
Words ending in ‘ward(s)’
Words such as toward(s), backward(s) generally take the ‘s’ in GB English but not in US English. Not a hard and fast rule.
England / Großbritannien
Germans often use Großbritannien or even England when they really mean the United Kingdom. Great Britain comprises England, the Principality of Wales and Scotland; these three together with Northern Ireland form the United Kingdom. Choose the most appropriate term for the context. If in doubt, play safe and translate the German literally. Avoid the colloquial Britain and British in legal or formal texts. Never use Ulster for the province of Northern Ireland. Ulster includes the Counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan plus Northern Ireland.
The geographical term British Isles includes Ireland and the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man and Channel Islands).
As a matter of courtesy use Ms in English unless you have reason to think the person concerned prefers otherwise. Note that the German Frau is likewise a courtesy title; a Frau is not necessarily a Mrs (i.e. married).
im Auftrag / in Vertretung / in Vollmacht / per Prokura (i.A. / i.V. / ppa)
Other than in legal texts where it may be important to indicate the presence of the signing authority in the original German correspondence, these should simply be omitted in accordance with usual English convention. The precise nature of the signing authority attached to each of these forms will in any case vary from one organisation to another.
In the English-speaking world the usual convention is for the person signing correspondence to enter their job title / position (e.g, head of department, senior vice president, managing director) beneath their signature and name. This provides an indication of the person’s signing authority and position in the company.
In the case of abbreviations and acronyms, be guided by pronunciation (e.g. a BMW, an MG).
Note also that LingServe style is to use a rather than an as the indefinite article before nouns beginning with h, e.g. a hotel, a house (rather than an hotel, an house).
A list of LingServe’s preferred abbreviations can be found in our Style conventions dictionary, which is not currently available online.
When using English translations of German laws, institutions, associations, etc. for which there is a generally recognised German acronym, insert the German acronym in brackets after the full English title (not necessary if repeated frequently within the same text). This removes any possible ambiguity that may arise in translation.
► German Income Tax Act (EstG)
► Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour (BMWA)
► German Spa Association (DHV)
Some words or names have acceptable variant spellings. For the purposes of consistency, the following are the designated LingServe preferences:
Words ending in -able: as a general rule, where the root word ends in an e, the e should be omitted (e.g. movable, shakable). The exception is words in which the final e is preceded by a soft c or g, in which cases the e should be retained (e.g. serviceable, chargeable).
A list of alternative spellings can be found in LingServe's Style conventions dictionary (not currently available online).
LingServe policy is to use an ampersand in place of the word 'and' only when there is good reason to do so, and not simply because an ampersand is used in the German source text. This includes occasions where space may be restricted, in common abbreviations such as R&D and in sentences where multiple words need to be grouped together as single concepts:
The categories in the 2015 tourism award are 'environment & sustainability', 'food & drink' and 'value for money'.
To translate or not to translate titles of German publications listed in bibliographies?
Not translating would leave the English reader with an information deficit regarding the nature of the primary sources of information. Simply translating the titles into English would remove the information the reader would need in order to carry out further research into the primary sources of information. The solution should therefore be to leave the titles in German, but add an English gloss in brackets.
Both the German 'Kinder bis XY Jahre' and the English 'Children up to the age of XY' are ambiguous in that they can mean either 'up to and including' or 'up to but not including' the age of XY. In line with our general approach of improving on the source text if we can, try to ascertain the precise meaning from the context, from background research or by asking the customer and translate accordingly.
If it means 'up to and including', translate as 'Children aged XY or under'. If it means 'up to but not including', translate as 'Children aged XY-1 or under'. If it is not possible to establish the precise meaning, simply translate as 'Children up to the age of XY'.
Buildings & structures
Museumsplatz = Museumsplatz square or just Museumsplatz if it's clear from context that this is a place.
Oberbaumbrücke = Oberbaum bridge
Maximilianmuseum = Maximilian Museum (u/c as name of an institution)
Museum Ludwig = Ludwig Museum (natural English word order)
Königssaal = Königssaal hall
No capitals for north, north-west, north-western, etc. unless part of an administrative or political unit or a distinct regional entity. Hence South Africa, Northern Ireland but southern Africa, northern France.
Note: north-west, not northwest or north west
Also: western Europe, eastern Europe; East Coast/West Coast (of America); South East Asia (on the grounds that it is now a distinct regional entity) and North Africa.
West Germany / East Germany (upper case) if specifically referring to the old Bundesrepublik and the former GDR; but if reference is current - merely dividing Germany into East and West - use western Germany / eastern Germany (lower case). By analogy, use northern Germany, southern Germany. The North, the South, the West, the East in upper case only in headings or for particular emphasis.
Upper case when referring to the Continent, i.e. mainland Europe as opposed to the UK, but continental Europe.
Use lower case and an apostrophe before the s (including in the plural) when referring to master's degrees or bachelor's degrees generically.
The university offers a wide range of master's degrees and bachelor's degrees, including a bachelor's degree designed especially for foreign students.
Where the full name of the degree is used, the initial letter is capitalised and no apostrophe is used, e.g.:
Bachelor of Arts or Master of Social Work.
et seq., pp., etc.
‘et seq.’ can be used for section/paragraph numbers, for example in contracts and legislation, and page numbers. Used to denote singular (f.) and plural (ff.). Variant spellings ‘et seqq.’ or ‘et sqq.’ sometimes considered to be the plural form but LS usage is ‘et seq.’ for singular and plural.
‘pp’ should only be used where a specific range of pages is stated (e.g. pp 20-25). Another alternative is ‘p. 21 onwards’ (e.g. for S. 21 ff.).
The abbreviation etc., which is always followed by a full stop, is preceded by a comma when it follows more than one listed item but not when it follows only one item:
There were dogs, cats and rabbits, etc.
There were rabbits etc.
Fairs and festivals
‘Tage’, ‘Wochen’ etc. should generally be translated as fair/festival unless there is an established English name for some of the larger events (e.g. Kieler Woche = Kiel Week).
Where there are obvious and recognisable cognates, use them (Beethovenfest = Beethoven Festival; Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie = Darmstadt Photography Festival) and write Fair/Festival in upper case as it is essentially part of the name. Where that is not the case or the obvious translation is likely to sound odd, retain the full German name and suffix it with ‘fair’ or ‘festival’ (e.g. Schützenfest = Schützenfest fair), Potsdamer Erlebnisnacht = Potsdam Erlebnisnacht festival) and write fair/festival in lower case if it is being used descriptively.
German texts often use only masculine denotations, where it would not be appropriate/ standard practice in English. Depending on the context, the following strategies can be used to avoid the problem in translation (the numbering does not indicate any order of preference):
1. Pluralise (e.g. all human beings are more than the sum of their parts).
2. Use he/she or he or she if it does not sound too clumsy or if it is a legal or personnel-related document (where grammatical pedantry and political correctness are often more appropriate).
3. Use the masculine form, possibly with a footnote stating that all reference to the masculine form should be assumed to refer to masculine and feminine, if appropriate to the style and structure of the text. This may be appropriate where the repeated use of workarounds (e.g. he/she) becomes intrusive and detracts from the flow of the text.
4. It is increasingly acceptable to use a plural pronoun with a singular subject (cf. BT 1471 announcement: “The caller withheld their number”). Use this if appropriate to the style and register of the text.
5. Do not adopt the feminine where masculine has been used in the source text (or vice-versa).
As a general rule, proper nouns should not be italicised. As with place names, below, the only exception would be if the proper noun conveys a meaning that is pertinent to the context.
a) German food & drink
bembel (traditonal receptacles for eating/drinking are also included in this list)
Brand names, (e.g. Köstritzer, Rotkäppchen) should not be italicised.
Note that the initial upper case letter in German nouns should not be used in an English text, unless it is a proper noun.
b) German place names
Only italicise if the name conveys a meaning in German.
c) Japanese words
Most commonly encountered in commercial/industrial contexts (kanban, etc.) should generally be italicised, but as with other languages, strongly anglicised words should not be italicised, e.g. sushi, karate.
Other examples: bonsai, kaizen, keiretsu, kamikaze.
d) Other German words
Accents and other orthographical features in words from languages written in the Latin alphabet should be retained in English unless the word is strongly anglicised (e.g. write ‘facade’ rather than ‘façade’). This includes proper nouns and place names. If in doubt, consult the Style Conventions dictionary.
Lakes: If an established English translation exists, use it (e.g. Bodensee = Lake Constance); in other cases, as a general rule, retain the full German name unless the root is three syllables or more, e.g. Edersee = Lake Edersee but Denneloher See = Lake Dennerlohe. German usage also tends to split the word See from the root where it is three syllables or more (e.g. Schweriner See). Note use of upper/lower case: Lake Edersee but Edersee lake.
If the lake is named after a neighbouring town, use the non-inflected place name as the name of the lake, e.g. Starnberger See > Lake Starnberg.
N.B. Königssee is a lake; cf. Königsee, which is a town.
Rivers: always lower case, i.e ‘river Rhine’ and ‘Rhine river’.
Forests: In many cases, XYZ-Wald is the name for a region, not just the forest. In some instances, there are established English (proper) names, which should be used (e.g. Bayerischer Wald = Bavarian Forest, Schwarzwald = Black Forest). With lesser known Wälder, it is preferable to retain the full German name with lower case forest/region (e.g. Odenwald = Odenwald forest / Odenwald region).
Hills/mountains: ‘Mount Zugspitze’ but ‘Zugspitze mountain’. Otherwise always use lower case for hills or mountains: Harz mountains, Siebengebirge hills, Taunus hills.
Valleys: always lower case in English unless the word is part of an official title. So:
Lahntal valley or Lahn valley (both formulations are valid are can be used interchangeably).
Rhine valley but UNESCO World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley.
Islands: use lower case island after name (e.g. Usedom island) as island not part of the proper name. Try to paraphase as 'island of XY' where possible. Consider describing an island as such if the English reader will likely be unaware a place is an island but this is pertinent to the context.
Generally speaking, single word hashtags that are not proper names are written with a lower case initial capital:
Proper names are written in accordance with their standard orthography:
Hashtags comprising chains of lower case words are acceptable and common, but consider using initial capitals to avoid ambiguity and aid readability:
Hyphens are not permitted in hashtags, so simply omit them and use upper case initial capitals to mark the breaks between the individual words:
For hotel classifications, we write out two-star, three-star, etc. in body text. However, 3-star and 4-star are fine in lists/tables, etc. Avoid replicating the popular German usage of **** to indicate star ratings. It can look like deleted expletives.
Italics should mostly be reserved for foreign words and phrases (see ‘Foreign words’ section above). A more comprehensive list of italicised words can be found in the Style conventions dictionary. As a general guide, the degree of anglicisation determines whether a word should be italicised.
As a general rule, proper nouns should not be italicised (e.g. Oktoberfest, not Oktoberfest.) and italics should not be used in headings.
Names of publications (newspapers, magazines, etc.) should be written with initial capitals but not italicised.
The Latin names for flora and fauna should be italicised.
In cases where it is not possible to use italics, e.g. certain web applications or where an entire section of text is already in italics, use single inverted commas instead.
When writing dimensions in thousands of mm it is more common and conventional to omit the comma, especially where some dimensions are in the hundreds and some are in the thousands.
100mm x 500mm x 3000mm
For names of governmental institutions where no official English translation exists we prefer ‘Ministry of XY’ to ‘Ministry for XY’ (and ‘Department for’ in preference to ‘Department of’. Maintaining consistency is very difficult because each of the federal states seem to translate their ministry names in slightly different ways: e.g. Ministry of Economics/Ministry of Economic Affairs.
More than/less than / under/over
Conventional grammar is that ‘over and under’ are used to answer the question ‘how much?’ and more than and fewer than answer the question ‘how many?’ - e.g. ‘fewer than ten items’. In usage, the distinction is much more blurred. Do not apply the grammatical rules rigidly, but be guided by what sounds right in the context and the formality of the text.
Names of institutions
The names of companies, organisations and institutions should be spelt as they themselves spell their name. For example World Health Organization (with a ‘z’ even if GB English), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and The Co-operative Society (with a hyphen, contrary to style guide).
There is an increasing trend for German institutions (particularly higher education establishments) to leave their name untranslated in their literature and on their website. Despite the general LingServe policy to be guided by an organisation’s own usage, we should not adopt this approach in this instance, particularly where there is a glaringly obvious English translation (e.g. Technische Universität München). Another consideration is consistency: if various similar institutions are mentioned in a text, they need to be treated consistently, which would not be the case if we rigidly followed their own usage.
Exceptions to this rule are documented in TermStar.
Plurals of acronyms and dates
Do not insert an apostrophe, even if the acronym ends in an ‘s’ (MPs, 1960s, ABSs). Some US style guides appear to prefer the apostrophe, but this is not universal.
A list of LingServe’s plural conventions can be found in the Style conventions dictionary.
It is LingServe policy to close up the spaces between slashes:
There was a 50/50 split in the vote. It’s a yes/no question.
In directions, only include the word autobahn if there is good reason, e.g. to distinguish between a scenic route and a fast route. Otherwise, simply name the road, e.g. “Take the A3 to Frankfurt, then the A5 to Kassel”. Omit the title Bundesstrasse altogether (e.g. “Take the A1, then the B2”).
Town or city as a translation for Stadt
If a Stadt is classed as a Großstadt in German (a city with over 100,000 inhabitants), or if it is a Landeshauptstadt, we call it a city in English. Anything else is a town.
Upper or lower case
Newly coined words are often written with an initial capital at first but as they become more familiar over time, tend to be written in lower case (e.g. internet). In cases of doubt, LingServe style policy is to err on the side of lower case, thus anticipating future changes.
As a general guide, if an adjective is in upper case in German as an indicator of proper-name status, any corresponding English adjective should also be in upper case. So “im Alten Rathaus” should be rendered as “in the Old Town Hall”, whereas “im alten Rathaus” would become “in the old town hall”.
A list of LingServe preferences can be found in the Style conventions dictionary.
US / GB differences
A list of US / GB spelling differences can be found in the Style conventions dictionary.
Canadian English: Canadian vocabulary is largely identical to American; spelling conventions are a mixture of US and GB. For details, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_english.
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_spelling_differences and G/Glossaries/British~American Wordlist for more information and examples.
Use upper case where only surname is given (e.g. Van Gogh), but lower case if full name is given (e.g. Vincent van Gogh).
Use lower case for the names of wines regardless of whether they take their name from a region (e.g. bordeaux, burgundy, champagne) or a grape variety (e.g. cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot). But use upper case when referring to the region, e.g. a burgundy from Burgundy.
Also use lower case for classifications, e.g. kabinett, spätlese.
This section applies primarily to annual (and interim) reports, but is also relevant for texts from the areas of banking/investment/insurance/accountancy/financial markets, etc.
See also Format section for useful information on currencies, figures, percentages, TEUR/T€ & Mio. €.
For extremely useful template financial statements, see: http://www.kpmg.com/global/en/issuesandinsights/articlespublications/ifrs-guide-to-financial-statements/pages/default.aspx
In the absence of any job-specific or customer-specific requirement regarding applicable accounting standards, the default LingServe preference is for IFRS terminology. However, this has to be qualified by stating that we would only introduce some recent and less intuitive IFRS coinages into our translations with a certain time delay once the terms have become established. For example, we continue to prefer ‘single-entity financial statements’ over ‘separate financial statements’ and ‘balance sheet’ over ‘statement of financial position’. Context is also critical - for example, only use ‘measurement’ for ‘Bewertung’ in actual IFRS financial statements or technical accounting texts.
In Fliesstext, figures stated as a loss should not be prefaced with a minus sign (as is often the case in German source texts). This may make it necessary to explicitly state contrasting figures as a profit.
e.g.: Auf das Segment Kompaktmotoren entfiel ein operativer Verlust vor Einmaleffekten in Höhe von -28,5 Mio. € (H1 2008: +16,7 Mio. €),
= The Compact Engines segment incurred an operating loss (before one-off items) of €28.5 million (H1 2008: profit of €16.7 million)
This applies analogously to other items that are also often expressed as negative figures in German texts (expenses, provisions, items on the liabilities side of the balance sheet, statistical decline, etc.).
In more general contexts, write out the word ‘minus’ in front of negative figures rather than using the minus sign.
In tables, minus signs should be left as minus signs. They should not be changed to the usual Anglo-Saxon format of brackets because this is not the practice in German and the source text may have other numbers in brackets.
The management report (Lagebericht) section of annual reports should be written in the past tense, even if the present tense is used in German as they are, by definition (with the exception of the Outlook section), reporting on past events. Where events are described in the prior year, generally use the pluperfect tense. The notes (Anhang) section, which describes the accounting policies used by the company, should be written in the present tense.
Check terminology used in previous year’s report and try to avoid changing it if at all possible (year-on-year comparability of results is one of the key requirements for the users of financial statements). If changes do appear necessary/appropriate, make sure they are properly documented, with justification/reasons, and reviewed with the customer.
Write the names of sections of the annual report in lower case, e.g. management report, risk report, corporate governance report, notes to the financial statements (when not used in headings). But write Company/Group/Bank (when referring to the reporting entity).
Use upper case Note when referring to a specific item in the Anhang (for clarity).
Use initial caps for the titles of IASs/IFRSs/IFRICs, etc.
Always specify the actual period for income statement items (or the Stichtag for balance sheet items) when stating the Vorjahreszahl in brackets, even if the source text doesn’t.
Example: Umsatzrückgang von 68% auf 51,6 Mio. € (Vj. 163,8 Mio. €)
= revenue fell by 68 percent to €51.6 million (Q1 2011: €163.8 million)
[in a report on Q1 2012]
Our preferred source of reference for legal writing is Ken Adams and his Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. Unfortunately that manual is in electronic form only on Rachel’s iPad, but his blog contains a lot of pointers and interesting discussions: http://www.adamsdrafting.com
In formal texts, including minutes of meetings, it is normal to refer to the entity that is the subject of the text in upper case (the Company, the Group, the Bank, ...).
Clause headings should be capitalised for US English.
In legislation, § 85 Abs. 1 lit. a should be cited in the form section 85 (1)(a).
Subdivisions of a section that are not identified by a number or letter should be cited in the form second paragraph of section 54 (or, less formally, section 54, second paragraph), or the third indent of the second subparagraph of section 2(2) etc.
In EU legislation, translate § as Article. In other legislation use section (note use of lower case unless in heading, both in US and GB English).
In contracts translate § as clause in the body of the text, but just write the number alone in headings (e.g. ‘§1. Vertragsgegenstand’ becomes ‘1. Subject matter of the Agreement’).
§ 1 Abs. 1 should be written as clause 1 ((1). If the source text uses a different form (e.g. § 1.1) then adopt the same form in translation (clause 1.1).
Note: Swiss legislation uses Artikel rather than the section symbol (§). This should be rendered in English as 'article', which may be abbreviated to 'Art.'. The names of Swiss laws are generally referred to as 'Federal Act on...'
Any terms that are defined should be capitalised from that point onwards in the text.
Where the terms are being defined, leave out superfluous wording such as ‘hereinafter referred to as’.
e.g. Gesellschaft XXX, nachfolgend ‘Kunde, becomes “Company XXX (‘Customer’)”
Capitalise ‘Agreement’ (where referring to the present agreement) even if not specifically defined.
Where the parties to an agreement are given generic names (e.g. Auftraggeber/ Auftragnehmer, Vermieter/Mieter, Verkäufer/Käufer ), they should be referred to in English without the use of a definite article and with initial caps. E.g. ‘Seller undertakes to transfer to Buyer...’.
Note: Restrict the use of this convention to the defined parties to the contract only, not to defined terms in general. Where there are no defined parties (e.g. in AGBs), capitalise defined terms but use definite articles for all parties. If “Parties” are defined parties to the contract, do use the definite article (“The Parties undertake to increase efficiency and reduce costs while maintaining the highest quality standards.”)
For ease of reading, it is often useful to use the masculine form and add the following rider:
‘Any reference to the masculine gender shall be taken to include the feminine.’
Laws should be given in full translation followed by the standard German abbreviation in brackets (for the avoidance of any ambiguity) on first occurrence in a text. Thereafter, just the German abbreviation or just the English full form can be used, whichever is most appropriate in the context. If the law is written out in full in German, it should be italicised. When writing out the name of the law in full, apply the following convention: "in accordance with section 268a (1) of the German Commercial Code", and as follows when abbreviated: "in accordance with section 268a (1) HGB".
Act/bill or law/draft law? Use act/bill for the legislation of an English-speaking country. For other countries either is acceptable. Act is a more natural translation for the title of a law, e.g. Aktiengesetz = the German Joint Stock Corporation Act, while law is better in a description, e.g. Aktiengesetz = the German law governing public limited companies. Where government departments produce their own English translations of their legislation, those translations should be used. Bear in mind, particularly in less formal contexts, that law and, in particular, draft law are more comprehensible to readers who are not native English speakers.
The word ‘legislation’ can be used in a general sense if the source text is not referring to a specific Act/law.
The titles of laws, decrees, orders, regulations, etc. can often best be translated into English by inverting the word order so that they appear in the form customary in common law countries. Apostrophes, commas and dashes do not normally appear in such titles in English.
Example: Gesetz über Arbeitnehmererfindungen = Employee Inventions Act
Words such as über become superfluous when translated and this helps towards brevity. Note that words which would otherwise sit unhappily in the inverted title can be placed in brackets; this is standard practice in the titles of statutes and statutory instruments in the United Kingdom, e.g. Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.
Depending on the context and the intended use/target readership of the translation, discretion should be applied as to whether to precede the name of the law with the name of the country to which it applies, e.g. Wertpapierhandelsgesetz - the (German) Securities Trading Act.
Shall should only be used to express an obligation (language of obligation) and should not be used as language of policy or of intention. Note that this only applies to contract drafting, not to general rules of grammar where shall is used to express obligation and futurity.
Do write: “Customer shall pay within ten days” as this is an obligation imposed by the contract upon the customer. Don’t write “The invoice shall be sent at the end of the month.” This either expresses intention, in which case it should be written in the future tense: “The invoice will be sent at the end of the month” or policy “Invoices are sent at the end of the month.”
Must can also be used to express an obligation, and in fact is a useful test to establish whether ‘shall’ is appropriate or not. If ‘must' doesn’t work in the sentence, then it is not an obligation and you shouldn’t be writing ‘shall’.
Take the following sentence for example:
“This contract shall be governed by German law”.
“This contract must be governed by German law” would be incorrect, as the sentence expresses policy, not obligation.
Must denotes all required actions, whether active or passive. (Customer must pay within ten days / Payment must be made within ten days)
Use will, not shall to render the future tense.
May is permissive and conveys discretion. (Buyer may also purchase additional items.)
May not is ambiguous and can indicate a prohibition (is not allowed to) but also the possibility that the subject may choose not to do something (= might not). If there is potential ambiguity, better to use must not or shall not for prohibition.
In definition clauses, always write ‘XX means YY', not ‘is deemed to mean’ or, worse, ‘shall be deemed to mean’
Tense of minutes
Minutes and similar records are generally written in the present tense in German; when translated into English they should be changed to the past tense. Where the simple past tense is used in the German, it should be changed to the pluperfect in English.
Herr Bauer erläutert hierzu, dass obwohl die Verkäufe leicht zurückgingen, diese trotzdem höher als erwartet waren.
Mr. Bauer explained that although sales had fallen slightly, they were still higher than had been forecast.
The future tense in German is often best rendered in English using the conditional, for coherency with the use of the surrounding past tense.
Er erwartet, dass sich die Märkte langsam erholen werden, merkt aber an, dass Japan, wo die monatlichen Verkäufe um ca. 23 % zurückgingen, weiterhin der schwierigste Markt bleiben wird.
He said he expected the Company’s markets to recover slowly, although Japan - where monthly sales had slumped by around 23 percent - would remain the most challenging market.