The horrors of proofreading | Top ten German to English translation errors

I decided to write this post after yet another long proofreading job, clearing up the utter mess created by some anonymous colleague before me. It was full of some of the most basic and recurrent errors that one tends to find in bad German to English translations.

It is hoped that this post will make a tiny contribution to improving standards in the industry, or even provide clients with a handy list of telling signs of a poor translator when they themselves are not in a position to judge. Even if it should fail in these two objectives, it should certainly prove to be cathartic writing for me and cathartic reading for all the other high-quality German to English translators out there. These errors are in no particular order, by the way, I think they all cause an equal number of grey hairs, but if desired I can keep a count next time…

Please let me know if you decide to do your own version for your language combination and I’ll edit this post to include a link at the bottom! Also keep your eyes peeled for a late December special: The Horrors of Proofreading: Top 10 into English translation errors. This planned post will go beyond mere German to English translation errors and include some of my ‘favourite’ errors found in all manner of into English translations, not just German to English.



One of the most common errors, even found in otherwise decent translations. The § is a symbol meaning ‘Paragraf’ in German (which is not the same as ‘paragraph’ in English – that’s ‘Absatz’). We Brits* don’t use the § symbol ever. We tend to say ‘Section’ or ‘Article’ (with or without capitalisation, depending on preference and context). I’m told by Marta Stelmaszak that this also comes up in Polish.

* Thanks, Steffen Walter (see comments).

Hint: It’s not even on a standard QWERTY keyboard…


Unbelievably, this is one I had to explain to a seasoned in-house translator of ten years, who frequently translated banking and other legal documents with this glaring error. GmbH means “company with limited liability” under German, Austrian, Swiss or Liechtensteinian law. There are quite significant differences, even between the meaning of GmbH between these four countries where GmbH…

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Posted on juin 10, 2014 in Field of translation

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