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Common English to Russian Translation Errors. Part 9. Basics

This article continues the series of posts about errors that translators working in the English to Russian language combination make. This time, the focus is on basic errors that may sound obvious to you, but you wоuld be surprised how many people make them.

Dash

Because English is less strict about the dash than Russian, you can encounter a variety of dashes within the same text. Examples:

Original Mark
John is a loner—lives by himself and rarely goes out. Em dash
John is a loner – lives by himself and rarely goes out. En dash
John is a loner – lives by himself and rarely goes out. Hyphen

However, as a professional translator, you cannot just follow the author’s lead. Your first task is to to use the dash consistently. The second task is to use the em dash—this is what Russian punctuation rules require. The en dash is more or less acceptable. But make sure not to use the hyphen—it is totally wrong.

Original Translation Correct or not?
John is a loner—lives by himself and rarely goes out. Джон — настоящий отшельник, живет один и редко выходит в люди. Correct
John is a loner – lives by himself and rarely goes out. Джон – настоящий отшельник, живет один и редко выходит в люди. Less correct, but not that bad
John is a loner – lives by himself and rarely goes out. Джон – настоящий отшельник, живет один и редко выходит в люди. Incorrect

Remember to put a non-breaking space before the dash to ensure that it does not go to the next line.

Original Translation Incorrect
Previous sentence… John is a loner—lives by himself and rarely goes out. Джон — настоящий отшельник, живет один и редко выходит в люди. Джон
— настоящий отшельник, живет один и редко выходит в люди.

Measurement units

English texts often do not use a space between numbers and measurement units. When translating into Russian, however, you need to add a space before the measurement unit, even if it is just a percent sign. And always remember to translate the measurement unit:

Original Correct Incorrect
The free disk space is 100GB. Свободное место на диске составляет 100 ГБ. Свободное место на диске составляет 100GB.
The free disk space is 30%. Свободное место на диске составляет 30 %. Свободное место на диске составляет 30%.

Note that a non-breaking space is required before the measurement unit to avoid the number appear on one line and the measurement unit on the next:

Original Correct Incorrect
The free disk space is 30%. Свободное место на диске составляет 30 %. Свободное место на диске составляет 30
%.

Omitting or translating “you” or “your”

Translation of “you” can be tricky. Firstly, as a rule of thumb, it does not belong in Russian technical documents. You must always find a way to make text work without it. Example:

Original Correct Incorrect
Wait 30 seconds to turn your device back on. Подождите 30 секунд, прежде чем включать устройство. Подождите 30 секунд, прежде чем включать ваше устройство.

Omitting “you” in the translation is usually as easy as deleting it, as in the example above. Sometimes it is more challenging, but that does not mean it is okay to keep it. With certain types of text, however, omitting “you” does not work, because it is important to distinguish between two items:

Original Correct Incorrect
Compare the mask to your device. See your device manual if the values do not match. Сравните маску с устройством. См. руководство пользователя вашего устройства, если значения не совпадают. (“вашего устройства” clearly refers to the “device,” thus distinguishing it from the “mask,” which is also a device.) Сравните маску с устройством. См. руководство пользователя устройства, если значения не совпадают. (Strictly speaking, it is not clear which of the two devices—the mask or the “device”—the word “устройства” refers to.)

Omitting “you” is also impractical when authors address the reader directly. Obvious examples include questionnaires where the point is to ask questions about the respondent—“you”—or marketing copy, which is less formal than technical texts.

Original Correct
Revitalize your body and mind in spacious rooms with unique interiors. Вас ждут просторные номера с уникальной обстановкой, отдых в которых поможет восстановить силы.
How many hours do you watch TV per week on average? Сколько часов в неделю Вы в среднем смотрите телевизор?

Thirdly, “вы” should normally be lower-case. The upper-case “Вы” is only required when addressing a specific person formally: in letters, e-mails, etc. Otherwise, the lower-case “вы” is in order.

Original Correct Incorrect
I am contacting you with a request regarding the new initiative. Хочу обратиться к Вам с просьбой по поводу нового проекта. Хочу обратиться к вам с просьбой по поводу нового проекта. (Actually, lower-case “вам” is okay, it is simply less common.)
A direct subordinate is angry with you about a perceived slight on a critical conference call. Прямой подчиненный злится на вас, считая, что вы неуважительно отнеслись к нему в ходе важного конференц-вызова. Прямой подчиненный злится на Вас, считая, что Вы неуважительно отнеслись к нему в ходе важного конференц-вызова.

Note, though, that questionnaires are an exception to this rule: even though you are referring to respondents in general, you still need to use the upper-case “Вы.”

Original Correct Incorrect
Please estimate how much you enjoyed staying in our hotel. Оцените, насколько Вам понравился отдых в нашем отеле. Оцените, насколько вам понравился отдых в нашем отеле.

For more articles in this series, click the link below.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.