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Does one translate a word or phrase into another language or to another language? For example:

  • Translate the following phrase to Spanish.
  • Translate the following phrase into Spanish.
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Does one need to evaluate what's important in life or does one give up? –  osknows Dec 10 '11 at 0:38

3 Answers 3

According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, the BBC English dictionary and the OED one translates into another language.

Translate to is used alongside translate into in a sentence like :

The rates translate to monthly payments of $399...

and translate to is used when translating something to something :

This book was translated to film....

But google gives hundreds of instances of use of "translate to" another language.

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In my experience/dialect, you use translate into when you are talking about the target language, but you can optionally use translate to when you are talking about the target text (the specific equivalent for the piece of original text you're talking about).

For example, all of these are acceptable:

(1) I translated "I like cats" into Spanish.

(2) I translated "I like cats" into "Me gustan los gatos."

(3) I translated "I like cats" to "Me gustan los gatos."

Note that translate to is very commonly used intransitively, e.g.:

(4) "I like cats" translates to "Me gustan los gatos."

However, you can't use translate into intransitively, and you can't translate to a language as a whole. Thus, these are unacceptable:

(1a) *I translated "I like cats" to Spanish.

(4a) *"I like cats" translates into "Me gustan los gatos."

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+1 for drawing a fine distinction. –  Kris Dec 11 '11 at 10:26

As far as translation is concerned, you translate into another language. You don't translate to it.

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Do you have a cite? –  jwpat7 Dec 9 '11 at 18:43
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@jwpat7: Apart from my own experience and practice, the OED has five citations for ‘translate to’ and none of them concerns language. It has 42 for ‘translate into’ and almost all concern language. There may be rare instances where ‘translate to [language]’ are found, but if the OP is asking for straightforward advice, I believe I have given it. –  Barrie England Dec 9 '11 at 18:51
    
@jwpat7: It's the general case. See this NGram for evidence that translate to is rarely used in any context. –  FumbleFingers Dec 9 '11 at 18:51
    
The only context in which I've heard translate to is when the subject of the verb is also the thing that's being translated (e.g., X, which translates to Y, is...). –  onomatomaniak Dec 9 '11 at 19:16
    
Is there any semantic difference between these two cases? –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 9 '11 at 19:19

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