When translating from English to French, there is a expansion factor, of anywhere between 15 and 25%, say about 20% average.

In most cases, part of my job while reviewing texts is to reduce the expansion factor, as many translators have a tendency to be wordy rather than efficient.

The expansion factor should be due to the fact that:

  • The average French word is longer than the average English word
  • French grammar forces the use of more prepositions, articles, etc.
  • There is no English word for some French words, so we need more than one word to convey the meaning
  • French conjugation adds letters to verbs

However, it should not be due to:

  • Inefficient use of words
  • Overtranslation
  • Use of several words to convey a meaning when a single word actually does exist
  • Lack of rework of the sentence to use a word order more natural in French, which often leads to shorter sentences (probably the most important factor)

Once in a while, after reworking a sentence at review time, I end up with a sentence equivalent in length is equivalent to the English one’s, or even shorter, and then I know I’ve done a good job and I deserve a beer. This is particularly possible when the English text is poorly written, unnecessarily wordy and full of in-sentence repetitions.