How to count words
Thread poster: Suzanne Faigan

Suzanne Faigan
New Zealand
Local time: 18:57
Russian to English
+ ...
Jun 30, 2009

Hello all, I will be grateful for some answers to a basic question: how do you count words?

Sub-questions: do you count i.e. charge for every little word?
What about the case of two words joined by an apostrophe e.g. in French would you count 'j'ai' as two words?


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:57
English to French
+ ...
Some basic info Jun 30, 2009

The method to count words depends greatly on the file format you are working with. The most common format is Microsoft Word. MS Word has a built-in wordcount feature. The problem is, it doesn't actually count words but rather counts spaces between words. So, for example, if it counts 12 spaces, then it will tell you that you have 13 words in your document. This is not very handy.

In French, the apostophe usually separates a contraction into the words that compose it. So, j'ai is, as you guessed, two words. But when MS Word counts words, it will still consider it as one word, since there is no space in the middle. I have made comparisons, and on larger documents, I found a gap of 35% between Word's estimation and my CAT tool word count. If you have to work in MS Word and the source text is in French, I think you should use Word's wordcount + 25% (the 25% will account for the uncounted words in contractions, more or less).

The best way to count words is to use software that serves this specific purpose. All CAT tools have word counting features, and they are usually quite reliable (although they all produce slightly different wordcounts for the same document). There is also billing software for translation work. Practicount is one of them. These have word counting features as well, and they help you invoice your work, too.

There are a few free word counting programs out there, but in this case, you get what you pay for. In my case, either I never got them to run or they are incomprehensible and so you never know if the word count is close to the actual number of words in your document.


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:57
French to English
+ ...
There's really no definition of "word" Jun 30, 2009

There's no single, correct definition of "word" handed down by God that everybody agrees on.

Word and most other programs effectively count strings occurring between certain "delimiter" characters, possibly with the odd extra bit of tweaking. And each program has its own arbitrary list of what those delimiters are. You can take the selfsame document, and your mum, your cousin, your grandma, Word, OpenOffice and other people programs may all give you different "word" counts.

So the best thing to do is just be practical. Assume that the people paying for the translation will want to pay as little as possible and will tend to agree with the lower word counts, and collaborators earning money from the translation will want to earn as much as possible and will tend to agree with the higher word count. Then budget for your projects accordingly.


John Jory  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:57
Member (2004)
English to German
+ ...
More basic info Jun 30, 2009

Because of the way that MS Word counts, it also defines numbers as words. In addition, it does not count the words in text boxes (used frequently in Word and Powerpoint).

I use the free program FineCount, which handles all the MS Office programs and gives a very detailed report, e.g. how many numbers are contained in the text.
Here is the link:

[Edited at 2009-06-30 16:06 GMT]


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:57
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
The important thing... Jun 30, 2009

Suzanne Faigan wrote:
Hello all, I will be grateful for some answers to a basic question: how do you count words? ... Do you count i.e. charge for every little word? What about the case of two words joined by an apostrophe...

I agree with what the others are saying: different programs count differently. The important thing is that you and your client are both happy with the word count. The word count must be considered fair by both.

Usually the word count of the tool in which the document is meant to be opened is considered a good start (eg MS Word's count for MS Word files). If you are unhappy with MS Word's counting mechanism, simply adjust your rate for MS Word filesicon_smile.gif


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