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English Translation Style Guide for EU


Translating incoming letters. If a letter is in an editable electronic format, simply overtype the original, though you need not translate irrelevant detail. However, if the letter cannot be overtyped, use a simple layout such as follows:

Letter from:

(name and, where necessary, address on one line)





Text of the letter (no opening or closing formula)

Drafting and translating outgoing letters. Remember the basic pairs for opening and closing letters:

Dear Sir/Madam … Yours faithfully

Dear Mr/Ms/Dr Bloggs … Yours sincerely

The tendency is towards greater use of the second, less formal, pair when the correspondent’s name is known. It should certainly be used in letters of reply to individuals.

Note that commas should be placed either after both opening and closing formula, or after neither.

Agreements in the form of an exchange of letters

Letter 1


Sir/Your Excellency,

I have the honour …


I should be obliged if you would inform me whether/confirm that your Government is in agreement with the above.

Please accept, Sir/Your Excellency, the assurance of my highest consideration.

Letter 2


Sir/Your Excellency,

I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of today’s date, which reads as follows:

(Insert text of letter 1)


I am able to inform you/confirm that my Government is in agreement with the contents of your letter/I have the honour to confirm that the above is acceptable to my Government and that your letter and this letter constitute an agreement in accordance with your proposal.

Please accept, Sir/Your Excellency, the assurance of my highest consideration.

Exchanges of Notes (Notes Verbales).


(Mission No 1) presents its compliments to (Mission No 2) and has the honour to refer to …


(Mission No 1) avails itself of this opportunity to renew to (Mission No 2) the assurance of its highest consideration.


General. Surnames are not normally uppercased in running text (thus Mr Barroso not Mr BARROSO), unless the aim is to highlight the names (e.g. in minutes).

Also, avoid the non-English practice of using the initial for the first name in running text. Wherever possible spell out the first name the first time round and contract thereafter. Thus:

  • Gro Harlem Brundtland (first mention), Ms Brundtland (thereafter)
  • Tony Blair (first mention), Mr Blair (thereafter)

If it is impossible to track down the first name, then drop the initial.

MsMmeFrau. As a matter of courtesy use Ms in English unless you know that the person concerned prefers otherwise. Note that the French Mme and German Frau are likewise courtesy titles: a Mme or Frau is not necessarily a Mrs (i.e. married).

Foreign-language titles. Avoid titles not customary in English, but note that if you use Mr or Ms, you must obviously be sure of the gender of the person in question.

  • For: write
  • Prof. Dr. H. Schmidt: Prof. H. Schmidt
  • Dipl.-Ing. W. Braun: Mr W. Braun
  • Drs. A. Baerdemaeker: Ms A. Baerdemaeker
  • Ir. B. De Bruyn: Ms B. De Bruyn
  • Me Reuter: Mr Reuter

Doctor. The title Dr should be given when it appears in the original (except in combined titles, as above), regardless of whether the holder is a doctor of medicine or not.


If a body, for example an international organisation, has an official name in English, always use that:

  • World Organisation for Animal Health (rather than Organisation Mondiale de la Santé Animale)

If it does not, follow the tips below.

In legal acts (i.e. any text where the English will have legal force), always use a body’s original name:

  • This Decision is addressed to Federazione Dottori Commercialisti.
  • Logistik GmbH and CargoCo s.à.r.l. have infringed Article 101 TFEU.

Elsewhere, if a body’s name is essentially a description of what it does, for example the name of a ministry, you should translate it, preferably with a commonly accepted or previously used term. The following solutions are all possible, depending on the type of document and/or the importance of the body in the document:

  • the Bundesministerium für Gesundheit (Federal Ministry of Health) [formal, or e.g. where the document is about this body]
  • the Federal Ministry of Health (Bundesministerium für Gesundheit) [e.g. where this body plays a significant role in the document]
  • the Federal Ministry of Health [e.g. when part of a long list of ministries or mentioned just in passing]
  • the German health ministry [informal, e.g. web text]

After the first mention, the name given in brackets may be dropped. The full name may also be shortened if there is no risk of confusion, e.g. the Bundesministerium/Ministry replied that …

In contrast, if the name is essentially a proper name, such as a company name, leave it in the original form. However, at the first mention it may sometimes be useful to include an ad hoc or previously used translation or to give an explanation:

  • The company’s name had by now been changed from Pfaffenhofener Würstli [Pfaffenhofen Sausages] to Bayrische Spezialitäten [Bavarian Specialities].
  • The Delflandse Wandelvrienden (a local Dutch hiking association) wrote to the President direct.

Note that company abbreviations may be omitted after the first mention:

  • The firms in question are Rheinische Heizungsfabrik GmbH, Calorifica Italia SpA, SIA Ekobriketes, and Kamna Dvořák sro. In the meantime, Ekobriketes and Kamna Dvořák have gone out of business.

Familiar foreign names. If a body’s original-language name is familiar to the intended readership, or the body uses it in its own English texts, use that rather than a translation:

  • The Bundesbank has issued a new policy directive.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières has long been active in this region.

Abbreviations. Where a body is referred to in the original language by an abbreviation, do not translate it with an improvised English one. Instead, give the English name followed by the original abbreviation (transliterating if necessary) in brackets (or vice versa) upon first mention, and include the original name as well if it is given:

  • the German Social Democratic Party (SPD)
  • SKAT (the Danish Central Customs and Tax Administration)
  • the Czech General Health Insurance Fund (Všeobecná zdravotní pojišťovna České Republiky — VZP)
  • the Regional Public Health Inspectorate in Bulgaria (RIOKOZ)

In the rest of the text, you may use just the abbreviation.

Back-transliteration of names. Where a name written in a non-Latin alphabet is obviously a rendering of a word or phrase normally written in the Latin alphabet, e.g. an English expression, use that rather than a transliteration:

  • Orange Juice AE not Orantz Tzous AE
  • Bulgaria Air not Bulgaria Er 13


Using gender-neutral formulations is more than a matter of political correctness. The Commission wholeheartedly endorses equal opportunities, and its language should reflect this. Using the generic ‘he’ is incongruous, since Commission documents are just as likely to be addressed to women.

He/she. Avoid the clumsy he/she etc., except perhaps in non-running text such as application forms. The best solution is often to use the plural, which in any case is more commonly used in English for the generic form as it does not require the definite article. For example, in draft legislation or calls for tenders, translate l’exportateur/le soumissionaire … il by exporters/tenderers … they. It is also acceptable to use forms such as everyone has their own views on this (see usage note for they in the Concise Oxford Dictionary).

In some texts, for example in manuals or sets of instructions, it is more natural in English to address the reader directly using the second-person form or even the imperative:

  • You should first turn on your computer.


  • First turn on your computer.

instead of

  • The user should first turn on his/her computer.

Noun forms. Use your judgment in choosing noun forms to emphasise or de-emphasise gender, such as Chairman, Chairwoman or Chair, but note that Parliament now uses Chair for its committees.

For certain occupations a substitute for a gender-specific term is now commonly used to refer to persons working in those occupations, e.g. we now write firefighters instead of firemen and police officer instead of policeman or policewoman. Note that the terms tradesperson and craftsperson are commonly used instead of tradesman and craftsman by local government authorities advertising jobs to both men and women. The term fishermen is still in common use, though the compound fisherman/woman and fishermen/women can also be found in UK sources.

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