Order of components within measurement units in RTL languages
Thread poster: msoutopico

msoutopico  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:06
English to Galician
+ ...
Mar 1, 2016

This question is about measurement units in languages written in right-to-left (RTL) scripts such as Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu, Malay, Farsi, etc. and their country-specific variants (for example, Arabic has quite a lot of national variants).

I would tend to think that there's a widely accepted practice in, say, Modern Standard Arabic, but I believe that not all countries have the same style regarding LTR text blocks when they include measurements (I've been told that some countries try to mimic English in this regard while others do not).

It is clear that numbers themselves flow from left to right, but there are two more things here: an optional -/+ sign and the measurement unit (e.g. celsius degrees, in this case: °C or ℃). In English we have:


As there are quite a few possibilities, I would need to have some feedback. So, the question is: What is the expected style in the different RTL language variants of the world?

These are the possibilities I can think of for the LTR text block containing the +/- sign, the figure and the measurement unit that would be preceded and/or followed by RTL text:


If possible, a reference (to some recognized style guide or something like that) would be great.

[Edited at 2016-03-01 00:13 GMT]

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Jad El Hachem  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:06
Arabic to French
+ ...
first option or... Mar 1, 2016


If I had to choose one of the abovementioned options, my intuition would choose the first one for the following reason: nowadays, most of the people in Arab countries are using the Arabic numerals (such as "10") but since you are writing "°C", for me, that is the same as writing a foreign word, thus, I would consider the whole "-10°C" as one foreign unit and write it like that, knowing that the person reading in Arabic is somewhat prepared to be surprised by foreign units of words.

However, if you can do it otherwise, I think that the most common way to express this in scientific or press articles is to write it in words:

-for a weather forecast showing that the temperature is of -10°C in Toronto, you would say:
درجة الحرارة 10 تحت الصفر
(10 degrees below zero)
ref: (Kuwait) http://alwatan.kuwait.tt/articledetails.aspx?id=467781

-for a difference of 10 degrees, meaning that the temperature decreased, you would say:
انخفاض الحرارة 10 درجات مئوية
(a decrease of 10°C)
ref: (Lebanon) http://goo.gl/TZcCZ1 / (Syria) http://www.syr-res.com/article/7226.html

As you can see, the references come from different Arab countries, and the usage seems to be the same.
(I don't have a reference for a style guide).

Anyway, if you want a general answer for Arabic as an RTL language, I would say that this language writes the idea in words.
I don't really know the usage in scientific publications such as mathematics manuals since maths is taught in foreign languages in Lebanon. I think it will probably be written as option 1.

Hope this helps


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msoutopico  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:06
English to Galician
+ ...
Lebanon: -10ºC Mar 2, 2016

شكرا جزيلا على إجاباتك, يا جاد!‫

If words are used instead of the symbol, then that's a different topic with which I'm not concerned and that posees no problems in terms of directionality (it is clear that figures alone flow LTR).

Thanks a lot. I'll be watching out for more answers to see whether I can find some academic reference.

Cheers, Manuel

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Ahmad Hassaballa  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:06
Member (2005)
German to Arabic
+ ...
Measurements exist in Arabic too Mar 3, 2016

Hi Manuel,

Arabic has its measurement units too, even though there's no standard for it so far (as much as I know). In your case, the following alternatives are commonly used:

-10 ° مئوية
-10 درجات مئوية
-10 ° م (abbrev. مئوية)
-10 ° س (abbrev. Celsius)

1st, 3rd and 4th option are widely used in science (educational) books, while the 2nd option is mostly used for clarification in non-scientific books.

Have a nice day

[Edited at 2016-03-04 00:56 GMT]

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Order of components within measurement units in RTL languages

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