When it comes to sentences, we can focus both on length and structure. Sentence length affects the register, as the shorter the sentences are, the snappier they sound. Come! Try! Buy! Vs. Come try our products and buy your favourites.
In addition, it is easy to make a text sound awkward by miscalculating the sentence length. In general, English sentences are shorter and use fewer subordinate clauses than, say, Spanish. Break down the sentences as much as necessary (we have just done it there). Translating from Spanish, we would have said In general, English sentences are shorter and use fewer subordinate clauses than, say, Spanish, so break down the sentences as much as necessary, which could get wordy.
Another important aspect is sentence structure, as, again, it can have an impact on the register. Generally, passive sentences are more formal, and they focus on the object or the action, removing attention from the speaker. Attached is a document vs I attached a document. Applying this incorrectly can result in an inconsistent style (because, in general, active or passive voice will be maintained consistently throughout the text).
Moreover, some languages have structural characteristics, such as putting the verb before the subject or omitting the subject altogether, whereas this would be inappropriate for an English text. We must alter the sentence structure to make it sound natural in the target language. If we fail to do this, the translation might sound awkward, as well as unidiomatic.
Somewhat related to this is the issue of word order and contractions. Some languages do not feature contractions, while others do. We use contractions when we want to make the text more casual or to make it sound like it is being spoken, therefore placing the content within a certain register. Occasionally, contractions may also be related to emphasis. For example, it is rare to say “it is not” when you are speaking and we tend to say “it isn’t” or “it’s not”. However, it is possible to say “it is not” when we want to emphasise something, and we might need to keep that emphasis in the text. In any case, in written language we tend to avoid contractions, unless it is an informal letter or specific marketing material.
When it comes to verbs, for example, we can use phrasal verbs to help place the text in a more informal register. E.g. Get in vs enter. Another relevant example is the use of the imperative as opposed to ‘going to’. Whilst the imperative is prompting and energetic, by using ‘going to’ we can adopt a conciliatory and helpful tone. Let’s start this training course! Vs We are going to start the training course.
We must also be aware of the risks of making a text sound unidiomatic by using too many words if, for example, the verb in the target language already implies a couple of other words included in the source language, rendering their translation unnecessary.
Other important building blocks within the sentence are nouns. Firstly, we can alter the text’s register by using synonyms.
For example the word 'drunk' has more then 2,000 synonyms, but more words have a lot of synonyms. For example 'smart':
Also, because nouns are fundamental within the sentence, we must be careful to avoid unidiomatic translations, as well as being precise when we translate them. For example, most English words lack precise gender, so when the source language distinguishes between feminine and masculine, we might have to qualify that in English. E.g. female doctor. In addition, if the source language has many words for a certain concept or object because it is something very relevant for that culture (e.g. snow for Eskimos), we can take to add adjectives that qualify “snow” in order to translate meaning in full. E.g. wet snow, dirty snow…
Lastly, linking words are a relevant aspect for style implementation. It is important to choose the right linker between sentences for nuance and degree of intensity, as that can influence the register and tone. E.g. But (objection) is different from although (concession). E.g. nevertheless is stronger than however. Finally, make sure to choose your linking words in a way that does not make the text sound unidiomatic. Some linkers can be similar between languages but not mean exactly the same or make the sentence sound unnatural. For example, in case it… is similar to en caso de que… in Spanish, but in most cases, it would be better translated as if.
Now we’ve taken the error message’s tone to informal and emotional. If we add an attempt at humor and a little irreverence, we’ll have taken the same message to a totally different tone of voice.
“What did you do!? You broke it! (Just kidding. We’re experiencing a problem on our end.)”