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English Translation Style Guide for EU – Writing English – PUNCTUATION – DASHES, BRACKETS, MARKS

English Translation Style Guide for EU


Dashes vs hyphens. Most users of word processors do not distinguish between dashes and hyphens, using hyphens to represent both short dashes (‘en’ dashes = –) and long dashes (‘em’ dashes = —) commonly used in typeset documents. However, please note that both en and em dashes are available in modern word processors.

Em dashes may be used to punctuate a sentence instead of commas (see 3.13) or round brackets (see 3.20). They increase the contrast or emphasis of the text thus set off. However, use no more than one in a sentence, or — if used with inserted phrases — one set of paired dashes. To avoid errors if your dashes subsequently turn into hyphens as a result of document conversion, do not follow the typesetting practice of omitting the spaces around the em dashes. In Microsoft Word, the keyboard shortcut for the em dash is Alt + Ctrl + – (on the numeric keypad).

En dashes are used to join coordinate or contrasting pairs (the Brussels–Paris route, a current–voltage graph, the height–depth ratio). These are not subject to hyphen rules. In Microsoft Word, the keyboard shortcut for the en dash is Ctrl + – (on the numeric keypad). See also Ranges and 4.20.


Round brackets. Also known as parentheses, round brackets are used much like commas in 3.13 above, except that the text they contain has a lower emphasis. They are often used to expand on or explain the preceding item in the text:

  • ARZOD (an employment service) is based in Ruritania.

Round brackets in citations. Use a pair of round brackets when citing numbered paragraphs from legal instruments, and close up to the article number:

  • Article 3(1), Article 3(1)(a), Article 3a(1), etc.

Bracketed sentences. A whole sentence in brackets should have the final stop inside the closing bracket. Do not forget the stop at the end of the preceding sentence as well.

Square brackets. Square brackets are used to make insertions in quoted material. They are also used by convention in administrative drafting to indicate optional passages or those still open to discussion, so do not replace with round brackets.

When translating, also use square brackets to insert translations or explanations after names or titles left in the original language.


Courtesy questions. No question mark is needed after a request or instruction put as a question for courtesy:

  • Would you please sign and return the attached form.

Do not use a question mark in indirect speech:

  • The chairman asked when the deadline would be fixed.

Question marks should be closed up to the preceding word.


In English, exclamation marks are used solely to mark exclamations, such as ‘How we laughed!’ or ‘What a fiasco!’, or to add exclamatory force to a statement, e.g. ‘Two million cows had to die!’, or a command, e.g. ‘Please read this paragraph!’ Exclamatory expressions are appropriate in texts that directly address the reader or audience, such as speeches or informal instructions, but are usually out of place in formal texts. Note that exclamation marks are not used to mark the imperative as such in English.

Factorials. As a mathematical symbol, the exclamation mark identifies a factorial:

  • 6! = 6 × 5 × 4 × 3 × 2 × 1

Exclamation marks should be closed up to the preceding word.


Smart vs straight quotation marks. Quotation marks should preferably be smart (‘…’) rather than straight (‘…’), but not both in the same text.

Double vs single quotation marks. Use single quotation marks to signal direct speech and verbatim quotes, and double quotation marks for quotations within these. You may also use single quotation marks to identify words and phrases that are not themselves quotes but to which you wish to draw attention as lexical items.

Placing of quotation marks. Quotation marks at the end of a sentence normally precede the concluding full stop, question mark or exclamation mark:

  • The American Government favours ‘a two-way street in arms procurement’.
  • Has the Commission published ‘A European Strategy for Encouraging Local Development and Employment Initiatives’?

However, if the quotation itself contains a concluding mark, no full stop is required after the quotation mark.

  • Walther Rathenau once said ‘We stand or fall on our economic performance.’
  • This section is entitled ‘A new culture of entrepreneurship in the EU: What to do?’

Short quotations. Short quotes of up to four lines or thereabouts are normally run into the surrounding text. They are set off by opening and closing quotation marks only.

Block quotations. Extended (block) quotations should be indented and separated from the surrounding text by paragraph spacing before and after. No quotation marks are required with this distinctive layout.

English text in source documents. An English text quoted in a foreign language text keeps the quotation marks in the English target text. But if a single English word or phrase is put in quotation marks simply to show that it is a foreign element, the quotation marks should be removed.

Back-translating of quotes. Avoid if possible. However, if you cannot find the original English version, turn the passage into indirect speech without quotation marks. The same applies where the author has applied quotation marks to a non-verbatim reference.

So-called. Quotation marks are preferable to so-called, which has pejorative connotations, to render soi-disant, sogenannt, etc.

Other uses. Generally, use quotation marks as sparingly as possible for purposes other than actual quotation.

French and German authors tend to make frequent use of inverted commas for nouns in apposition (often programme or committee names etc.), as in le Conseil ‘Agriculture’ or Komitee ‘Menschliche Faktoren’. It is usually preferable to omit the quotation marks in English and reverse the order:

  • the Agriculture Council, the Human Factors Committee, etc.

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