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English Translation Style Guide for EU – Writing English – PARTS OF SPEECH

English Translation Style Guide for EU

ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS

Biannual/biennial. ‘Biannual’ means twice a year and ‘biennial’ means every two years, but the terms are often confused. If the meaning is not clear from the context, use alternatives such as ‘twice-yearly’ or ‘two-yearly’ or clarify what you mean, e.g. ‘the biannual/biennial report (i.e. published every six months / two years)’.

Here-/there- adverbs. Herewith, thereto, etc. are archaic or extremely formal variants of with this, to that, etc. and should normally be avoided. If you feel you must use such forms, however, bear the following points in mind: here– adverbs should preferably be used only where they specifically refer to ‘the present text’, as for example in hereto attached or herein described; hereinafter is more precise than hereafter if what you mean is ‘from this point onwards within this text’; therefor without a final ‘e’ is how you write ‘for that (purpose)’.

SINGULAR OR PLURAL

Collective nouns. Use the singular when the emphasis is on the whole entity:

  • The Government is considering the matter.
  • The Commission was not informed.

Use the plural when the emphasis is on the individual members:

  • The police have failed to trace the goods.
  • A majority of the Committee were in favour.

Countries and organisations with a plural name take the singular:

  • The Netherlands is reconsidering its position.
  • The United Nations was unable to reach agreement.

Use a singular verb when a multiple subject clearly forms a whole:

  • Checking and stamping the forms is the job of the customs authorities.

Words in -ics. These are singular when used to denote a scientific discipline or body of knowledge (mathematics, statistics, economics) but plural in all other contexts.

  • Economics is commonly regarded as a soft science.
  • The economics of the new process were studied in depth.

A statistic. The singular statistic is a back-formation from the plural and means an individual item of data from a set of statistics.

Data can be construed as either singular or plural.

None and one. The word none may take either a singular or plural verb when it refers to a plural countable noun:

  • None of the products meets/meet the requirements.

If none refers to a singular or uncountable noun, it takes a singular verb:

  • None of the information was correct.

Although the subject one in X (e.g. one in five, one in ten) is singular, the construction may take a plural verb if the notional agreement (i.e. the sense that the subject should be interpreted as plural) is stronger than the grammatical agreement:

  • One in ten people do not have basic maths skills.
  • One person in ten does not have basic maths skills.
  • One in five schools in England and Wales is/are struggling to recruit a headteacher.

Decimal fractions and zero. When referring to countable items, they take the plural:

  • Ruritanian households have on average 0 / 0.5 / 1.0 (!) / 1.5 televisions (but 1 television)

PRESENT PERFECT/SIMPLE PAST

When writing from the standpoint of the present moment in time, the present perfect is used to refer to events or situations in the period leading up to that time:

  • The Commission is meeting to consider the proposal. It has (already) discussed this several times in the past.

Where the starting point of this period is indicated, the present perfect is often used in its continuous form to emphasise the ongoing nature of the process:

  • The Commission is meeting to consider the proposal. It has been discussing this since 2001.

If the reference is not to a period up to the present but to a time that ended before the present, the simple past is used:

  • The Commission is meeting to consider the proposal. It discussed this last week.

TENSES IN MINUTES

Minutes and summary records are written in the past tense in English, unlike in French and some other languages, where they are written using the present tense.

7.13 This means converting actual or implied statements from the present to the past.

A simple example of English reported speech conventions:

  • Dutch spokesman: ‘We are concerned at the number of exceptions which have been included.’
  • Chairman: ‘The legal experts will be looking into this question.’

In reported speech, this becomes:

  • The Dutch delegation was concerned at the number of exceptions that had been included. The Chairman said the legal experts would be looking into the question.

Sequence of tenses. Simple past is normally replaced by past perfect (pluperfect):

  • Dr Nolde said the tests had been a failure.

However, to avoid a clumsy string of past perfects in minutes where a speaker is reporting on another meeting or event, start with At that meeting or On that occasion and continue with the simple past. Note that in order to maintain a logical sequence of tenses, indications of time may have to be converted as well as verbs:

  • Chair: ‘Last year, if you remember, we referred this problem to the subcommittee because we felt that legislation was inappropriate. It looks now, however, as if tougher measures may be needed, and I propose that we discuss these at tomorrow’s session.’

This could become, for example:

  • The Chair reminded delegates that in 2003 the problem had been referred to the subcommittee, since legislation was then felt to be inappropriate. Now, however, she thought tougher measures might be needed and proposed that the committee discuss them at the following day’s session.’

Streamlining. Lengthy passages of reported speech can be made more reader-friendly by avoiding unnecessary repetition of ‘he said/explained/pointed out’, provided the argument is followed through and it is clear from the context that the same speaker is continuing.

Auxiliaries. The auxiliaries would, should, could, must, might are often unchanged, but sometimes various transpositions are possible or required (e.g. must => had to; could => would be able to; should => was to).

VERBS IN LEGISLATION

The use of verbs, in particular the modal verb shall, in legislation often gives rise to problems, since such uses are rarely encountered in everyday speech. Consequently, writers may lack a feel for the right construction. The following section is intended to provide guidance.

Use of verbs in enacting terms. The enacting terms of binding EU legislation, i.e. the articles of EU treaties (see chapter 15) and of EU regulations, directives and decisions (see chapter 16), can be divided broadly into two linguistic categories: imperative terms and declarative terms. Imperative terms can in turn be subdivided into positive and negative commands and positive and negative permissions. Declarative terms are terms that are implemented directly by virtue of being declared, for example definitions or amendments. Note that the explanations here apply only to the main clauses of sentences in enacting terms.

For a positive command, use shall:

  • This form shall be used for all consignments.

Note that this provision expresses an obligation. However, this is not always the case:

  • This Regulation shall enter into force on …

Theoretically, must could be used instead of shall in the first case, while will could be used in both cases. However, this is not the practice in EU legislation.

For a negative command, use shall not:

  • The provisions of the Charter shall not extend in any way the competences of the Union as defined in the Treaties.
  • This agreement shall not enter into force until/if …

Where a prohibition is meant, however, use may not:

  • The Judges may not hold any political or administrative office.
  • This additive may not be used in foods.

As a guide to usage, note that will not could be used instead of shall not in the first case, and must not could be used instead of may not in the second. Again, however, this is not the usual practice in EU legislation.

For a positive permission, use may:

  • This additive may be used …:

For a negative permission, use need not:

  • This test need not be performed in the following cases:

For declarative terms, use the simple present (together with an optional ‘hereby’ where the declaration constitutes an action, as in the first three examples):

  • Regulation … is (hereby) repealed.
  • A committee … is (hereby) established.
  • Article 3 of Regulation …is (hereby) amended as follows:
  • This Regulation applies to aid granted to enterprises in the agriculture or fisheries sectors.
  • For the purpose of this Regulation, ‘abnormal loads’ means …

Note that shall be could be used in the first four examples (without hereby), but the meaning would be different: instead of declaring something to be so, this would be ordaining that something is to be so at some point or in some event (Two years after the entry into force of this Regulation/Should the Member States so decide, …). In the last example as well, shall mean would in effect be instructing people how to use the term ‘abnormal loads’ from now on, rather than simply declaring what it means in the regulation. Consequently, where no futurity or contingency is intended, the correct form here is a declarative term using the simple present.

Use of verbs in non-enacting terms. Do not use shall in non-enacting terms, for example recitals or points in annexes. This is because these are not normally imperative terms (but see 7.25 below) and shall is not used with the third person in English except in commands (and to express resolution as in it shall be done). Use other verbs such as will or must as appropriate. Note that this also applies to subordinate phrases in enacting terms, since these refer or explain and do not in themselves constitute commands (e.g. where applicants must/have to/are to [not shall] submit documentation under paragraph 1, …).

Avoid also the archaic use of shall in subordinate clauses to express contingency: use instead the present tense (e.g. if an application is [not shall be] submitted after the deadline, …) or the inverted construction with should (e.g. should an application be submitted after the deadline, …).

Do not use may not in non-enacting terms to express a prohibition since it will often be interpreted as expressing possibility: use, for example, must not instead.

Instructions in annexes to legislation. While instructions will contain imperative terms, they often contain descriptions and statements of fact as well. For the sake of clarity, therefore, you should use the second person imperative rather than shall for commands:

  • Place a sample in a round-bottomed flask …

Use must to express objective necessity:

The sample must be chemically pure … (i.e. if it isn’t, the procedure won’t work properly)

SPLIT INFINITIVE

This refers to the practice of inserting adverbs or other words before an infinitive but after the ‘to’ that usually introduces it, as in ‘to boldly go where no-one has gone before’. Although there is nothing wrong with this practice from the standpoint of English grammar, there are still many who think otherwise. One way of encouraging such readers to concentrate on the content of your text rather than on the way you express it is to avoid separating the ‘to’ from its following infinitive. Note, however, that this does not justify qualifying the wrong verb, as in ‘we called on her legally to condemn the practice’. In these and similar cases, either split the infinitive with a clear conscience or move the qualifying adverb to the end of the phrase.

THE GERUND AND THE POSSESSIVE

A gerund has the same form as a present participle, i.e. it is made up of a verb stem plus –ing. Strictly speaking, it is a verb form used as a noun:

  • Parliament objected to the President’s prompt signing of the Treaty. (1)

The use of the possessive form (the President’s) follows the rule for nouns in general, as in:

  • Parliament objected to the President’s prompt denunciation of the Treaty.

However, (1) could also be expressed as:

  • Parliament objected to the President promptly signing the Treaty. (2)

Here, though, ‘signing’ is still clearly a verb and is not itself being used as a noun, as it takes a direct object without ‘of’ and is modified by an adverb (promptly) not an adjective (prompt). Accordingly, as ‘the President’ is still the subject of a verb not a noun, there is no reason for it to be in the possessive, despite what many authorities might say.

Note also the slight difference in nuance: the objection is to the President’s action in (1), but to an idea or possibility in (2). This explains why one could write ‘criticised’ in (1) but not in (2), and why ‘does not foresee’ fits in (2) but not in (1).

Although the two constructions in (1) and (2) are therefore clearly distinct, the use of personal pronouns poses a problem. ‘He’ would be the logical choice to replace ‘the President’ in (2), but unfortunately is no longer current English except in ‘absolute’ phrases such as ‘he being the President, we had to obey’. The solution is to use ‘him’ by analogy with similar looking constructions such as ‘we saw him signing the Treaty’ or to use ‘his’ by analogy with (1):

  • Parliament objected to him/his promptly signing the Treaty.

In such cases, however, the use of the possessive pronoun blurs the distinction between (1) and (2). This means that the latter form can turn up in contexts where it would otherwise not occur:

  • Despite his promptly signing the Treaty, …

Bear in mind, though, that such constructions often look better rephrased:

  • Even though he promptly signed the Treaty, …
  • Despite promptly signing the Treaty, he ….

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