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Quality Japanese Translation Services with Number Conventions

There is often confusion regarding how to express numbers when translating into languages such as English in which numbers can be depicted both in numerals and words. 

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This is not only true for Japanese translators but also for any writers of formal English. However, there is perhaps more of a tendency to err when translating due to what I have referred to in previous articles as source language dependence, that is the inclination to express something in the target language the same way that it is described in the source language. 

There are generally no rules for number expression, which is why we refer to them as conventions. An understanding, and consistent application, of these will help you improve the quality of your work. We should first perhaps start by saying that what follows refers exclusively to formal written sentences. Numbers in tables, and the like, will always use numeric digits.

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 The first convention is closer to a rule than any of the others. That is, numbers from 1 to 9 should be written out in words, and from 10 on, digits should be used.

  There are two main exceptions to the above. Firstly, even for numbers 10 and above, words should be used at the beginning of a sentence. In case of long numbers, it is thus better to rearrange the sentence to avoid the number appearing at the start. (i.e. “206 bones make up the human body” ? “The human body has 206 bones”). Secondly, when numbers from one to nine are in a list with other numbers, they should all be written as numerals for consistency. (i.e. “groups of 3,6,17,19”, not “groups of three, six, 17, 19”).

Another convention is that when writing out words with multiple words, they should by hyphenated (i.e. “thirty-six”, and not “thirty six”). The same goes for all written fractions (i.e. “two-thirds”) other than when preceded by the definite article (i.e. “a third”, not “a-third”).

Finally, the rule about numbers from 1-9 does not cover ordinal numbers, which are spelled out (i.e. “He was first in his class”, not “He was 1st in his class”).

In conclusion, following the above guidelines rather than just following the expression of the source text will make your Japanese English translation look more professional. Even more important than following every convention to the letter, however, is that you make sure that you are consistent in your style.

About the Author
Simon Way is a contributing author to SAECULII YK, the owner of Translation Services Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Service

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