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Written by Diego Achío

September 23, 2020

Learn the Guidelines for Video Subtitling


Probably, you have thought about creating subtitles for your favorite TV series or a YouTube video that is not available in your language. If this has ever crossed your mind, you should better know more about the subtitling rules and standards to provide the best possible service. Likewise, if what you are looking for is a translator to help you out with the subtitling of your material, you should be aware of the standards and guidelines that must be fulfilled throughout this process in order to know that the translation will be well done.

Here are the most important rules:


Character Limit

Subtitles shouldn’t take a lot of space on the screen, nor can they have the extension that we want. Two subtitle lines is the maximum allowed amount, and each line must contain only 42 characters per line. Do not forget that a literal translation will not always fit the space available so we need to use adaptation throughout his process.

Time Limit

The subtitle length on the screen must be long enough for the viewer to read without problems, but it shouldn’t stay there after the character stopped talking. This is what we call synchronization. The minimum time for a subtitle is one second and five seconds is the maximum that it can last. The message must be adapted so that the translation is correct and can fit into the allowed space and time.

Splitting sentences

This is one of the most tough tasks of subtitling. To avoid the readers’ confusion, we need to remember the ways in which a sentence can be split.

Do not use ellipsis or dashes to split a sentence in two lines. Ellipsis are only used to indicate a short pause between the dialogues of one speaker or to indicate that the subtitle does not show a complete idea.

Subtitle 1: I wanted to talk to you…

Subtitle 2: …but you are busy.

A hyphen is used to indicate two speakers in one subtitle.

Subtitle 1:- Will you go with him?

Subtitle 2:- No, I’ll stay home.

If you are dealing with a compound sentence, be sure to keep the phrases together between the lines:

Subtitle 1: I want to think

Subtitle 2: that everything will be fine.

These are just some rules that should be followed when subtitling. Nonetheless, they are most important of all. Each company and each client has its own specifications when commissioning a subtitling project, such as asking for a specific font style, font size, non-translatable terms, etc. But you can always be sure that these rules will be needed every time you’re subtitling.


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