Four Types of Fatal Errors in Chinese-English Translation

Fatal error in translation refers to translation errors or mistakes that might result in great loss or serious (disastrous) consequences to end users and must be avoided during translation.

There are four types of fatal errors in Chinese-English translation, namely, omission, key word/sentence error, errors of numbers and terms.

Omission means that words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs of original text which shall be translated has not been translated in to target languages because of careless or other reasons. Omission, especially omission of key words or sentences is prohibited in the translation work of a professional translator as any form of omission is unbearable in professional translation.

e.g. 1:

Original text: 联系人:吴国显

电话:86 20 3813 8133

86 (591)8833 1000

传真:86 (591) 8833 1188

Translation: Contact: Wu Guoxian



e.g. 2:

Original text: 上海中商标签制作有限公司



Translation: Shanghai Zhongshang Tag Making Co., Ltd.

Shanghai Huarong Trademark Co., Ltd.

In the first example, the crucial information, the telephone number and fax number of the contactor have been omitted in translation. In the second example, the second line of the original text has not been translated at all.

No matter what reason it is, whether it is carelessness or intended deletion, the above-mentioned omission is strictly forbidden in translation.

The second type of fatal error is key words or sentences error. Before entering into the subject, let’s get familiar with several relevant terms: key sentence, key word, semantic error and critical semantic error. Key sentence refers to sentences and expressions which play a decisive role in correctly understanding and using the translation.

For more information please Read: How to translate Chinese Sentences without a Subject

Key words refer to words or phrases that play a major role in correctly understanding and using the translation. Semantic error results from misunderstanding of the original text, including semantic error and logic error. Critical semantic error is the error that might directly affect the correct use or cause serious consequences, mainly consisting of key sentence error and key word error. Key words or sentences error mainly result from semantic error and logic error.

e.g. 3:

Original text: Public Interest

There are many great spots where you can find out more about the present and past of the Port of Antwerp.

Translation: 公众利益


e.g. 4

Original text: 付款方式:合同总额的30%为订金,合同总额的70%将会在收到正本提单后付清。

Translation: Payment terms: 30% of total contract value as down payment, 70% of contract balance shall be paid before receiving the B/L.

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In example 3, “public interest” is translated into “公众利益” which seems absolutely right because “公众利益” is the literal meaning of “public interest”. However, if we read the following paragraphs, we will find that it introduces museums, scenic spots and sports events of the port, so the translation is not proper here. As the title of a chapter, “Public Interest” indicates the content of the following chapter, thus misunderstanding and improper translation of it will cause confusion.

In example 4, the original text is “合同总额的70%将会在收到正本提单付清”(70% of contract balance shall be paid after receiving the B/L), while in translation, it converted into “70% of contract balance shall be paid before receiving the B/L” which is just opposite to the original meaning. This form of error will cause serious consequences to the customer and must be avoided during translation.

The third and fourth fatal errors are errors in numbers and terms. In technical documents and contracts, numbers, such as the date and amount of contract, technical specifications, materials amount, design data, etc. are so important information that any small errors in translation will result in great loss or disastrous effect.

Terms refers to the name of a person, a place, a company or organization, etc. In contracts or other legal documents, the person or company who act as the major part to sign the contract or legal document is very important, therefore, their names shall be accurate whether in the original text or in the translation version.