THE PURPOSE OF SUBTITLING
Subtitles must reproduce the intent of an original work that would otherwise
be inaccessible or incomprehensible to a given audience.
THE ELEMENTS OF SUBTITLING
Subtitles are defined as lines of text reproducing language content in
The process of subtitling involves controlling three key elements:
The cueing of subtitles must follow the speech rhythm, taking cuts and
sound bridges into consideration. Dialogue becomes incomprehensible if
a subtitle enters at the wrong time.
The amount of text in a subtitle must be consistent with the viewers'
reading speed. Achieving this usually requires compressing the dialogue;
if the amount of text in the subtitle is too great in comparison with
its exposure time on the screen, the audience won't have time to read
The translation must reproduce the message conveyed in the original work.
Errors in translation or language will distract the viewer.
The subtitle's cueing, brevity, and content are factors that help to convey
the intent of the original work. If any of these elements are inadequate,
viewer perception will be impeded, and this may cause the audience to
discontinue their viewing.
A lot of work has gone into all the aspects of any production. Subtitling
alters the original, and consequently, certain rules must be observed
in order to ensure that the subtitles blend in with the original work.
High-quality subtitling enhances the overall experience for the target
Time and Space
The viewer must be given enough time to take in both image, sound and
Subtitles should be cued to match the dialogue, and adjusted according
to the cuts. Sometimes it is best to cue in the subtitle at the cut instead
of waiting for the corresponding dialogue. The subtitle should preferably
be cued out at the cut. A subtitle may only linger after a cut if this
is within the same scene, and must be cued out if a cut occurs from one
scene to another.
Consecutive subtitles must be cued using a fixed interval, which can be
set to 2, 3, or 4 frames and must be consistent throughout the entire
translation. The fixed frames interval must be used if the pause between
two subtitles is less than one second, unless several cuts occur during
Context, language, audio and visual editing each have a bearing on the
amount of text one subtitle may contain. A subtitle of two full lines
requires a duration of approximately 6 seconds, while a subtitle of one
full line requires approximately 3 seconds (i.e. 12 characters per second).
Subtitles with a duration of less than one and a half seconds should be
Each subtitle should be semantically self-contained.
Idiomatic phrases and expressions should always be used. The subtitle
content should not contradict the dialogue or image (e.g. body language).
Replacing the names of people or places with the names of other people
or places should be avoided; such names should be explained or, if necessary,
The style of the target language must be equivalent to the style of the
source language. Converted measurements and numbers must be rounded to
an equivalent degree of precision.
National subtitling standards for punctuation, italics, text alignment,
continuation and dialogue indicators must always be followed.
Click for criteria in
The criteria have so far been ratified
by the following audio-visual translation unions:
TF section 108, Sweden