Does anybody know of a standard style guide on hyphen in subtitles?
Thread poster: Y. Peraza

Y. Peraza
Local time: 07:08
Danish to Spanish
+ ...
Aug 27, 2008

Hello all,

I have to translate the subtitles for a film, from Danish into Spanish. In the original text there is a (-) everytime a sentence remains unfinished. I have never seen this usage of hyphens in subtitles in Spanish, English or other languages. It's true that I don't usually watch movies with Danish subtitles, though.
My question is: Does anybody know of a standard style guide on this matter? Or more especifically, should I keep the hyphens in the Spanish version?

Thank you in advance for your help.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2008-08-27 10:22]

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:08
English to Portuguese
+ ...
One article on Proz Aug 27, 2008

There is a good article here:
... but bear in mind what the Romanian writer said herself:
Every language has its own subtitlia. You will notice that by simply turning on the TV and reading some subtitles. The language rules (punctuation, especially) is not the classic one that you will find in every grammar book, but a specific one. Find out what the subtitlia rules are for your language and use it consistently.

This is to say that the punctuation rules she lists there may be valid for Romania, but not necessarily for Denmark or Spain.

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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
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Reader's Digest: How to write and speak better Aug 27, 2008

I think it is a good book and it is quite interesting.

There is a section on hyphens (page 220-223)

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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:08
French to Spanish
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... Aug 27, 2008

When the sentence is unfinished, the rule in Spanish is (...)

-Yo creo que...
-¡Tú cállate!

That's it, that's what I always do.

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George Hopkins
Local time: 07:08
Swedish to English
Hyphens Aug 28, 2008

Get a copy of the book:
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss

- and read the chapter, 'A Little Used Punctuation Mark'.
On the third line it states: 'If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad'.

Then read the rest of the book - it is humorous and instructive

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Mara Campbell
Local time: 02:08
Spanish to English
+ ...
RAE Sep 3, 2008

Hi! I think what might have happened is that the original subtitles were exported/imported around through one or more different softwares and maybe the punctuation "--", generally used when a sentence is interrupted, was converted to a single dash.

As for the case of Spanish, the Real Academia Española in all of its Grammar and Punctuation books (available for free consultation at their website, specifies that an incomplete sentence should be punctuated with an ellipses, "...".

I don't think this is a matter of language usage in subtitling, this is a Spanish Grammar issue and we should be looking for answer in the relevant institutions (I believe RAE is the authority), not in subtitling books.

Hope it helps!!


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United Kingdom
Local time: 06:08
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Find out what the convention is in the target country Sep 6, 2008

I would say it's an issue of stuyle rather than grammar. Different countries (and even companies within countries) have different conventions for sentences spread over a number of captions. From personal experience, many northern European countries end a caption with a "-" to show that the sentence continues in the next caption. Many other countries use "..." at the end of a caption and either ".." or "..." to introduce the next while others just break the sentence at an appropriate point in the first caption and continue without interruption or superfluous puntuation in the next.

I would just use the standard Spanish captioning conventions as that's what the viewers will be expecting. Failing that, contact your client and check what their preference is.

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jbjb  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:08
Member (2005)
Estonian to English
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conventions Sep 8, 2008

Yes, the exhaustive answer is:
each country has its own subtitling style, especially for various punctuation marks,
and each subtitling company/channel/DVD producer may have its own style within the country.
There is no international rule for this - I personally translate with 5-6 different styles, depending on the need of the client.
If they want hyphens - here you are.
If they like three dots... you're welcome.
-No space after the hyphen? -Here you are.
- They like spaces after the hyphen? - Let them have those.
Some companies don't even like full stops at the end of sentences

The hyphens at the end of subtitles, denoting that the sentence continues in the next subtitle, is a style used by most (but not all) Scandinavian companies. English/American companies prefer ... and most of the Central European markets prefer not to use any punctuation marks at all.

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Eeva Lilley  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:08
English to Finnish
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studio guidelines Oct 2, 2008

Each studio have their own guidelines as to the use of continuation hyphens. The same studio may have different rules for the theatrical version, dvd, television... and different ones for each language. You must always check with the subtitling company what the rules are for each occasion.

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Does anybody know of a standard style guide on hyphen in subtitles?

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