Grammatical transformations in translation


Word-for-word translation until we come to very rare cases (very simple short sentences) is impossible. In the course of translation in order to achieve translation equivalence we have to resort to different grammatical and lexical changes, which are called transformations. They can be of 4 types:

1. Transposition

2. Replacement

3. Addition

4. Omission

This classification is arbitrary, not precise, because as far as translation goes we can’t find any of the transformations in is pure form. They are usually combined with one another.


It’s a change in the order of linguistic elements, which are words, phrases, clauses and sentences. Most often it is connected with the notions of theme and rheme:

*A boy came in – The boy came in

In the first case literal translation is impossible, as the word “boy” is rheme, so we change the word order: “Вошел мальчик”

Within a complex sentence the same tendency is observed in Russian. So the first place is occupied by the part of a sentence which most logically precedes the second, while in English the position of both clauses though not quite fixed is for the most part governed by existing syntactical rules. In fact the main clause precedes the subordinate one, and this often causes a change in the order of clauses in translation.

*He trembled as he looked up. – Взглянув наверх, он задрожал.

*You goin’ to court this morning? – Said Jim. We have strolled over. – Мы подошли. “Вы пойдете сегодня в суд?” – спросил Джим.

The transposition of the sentence elements is sometimes called sentence restructuring, because the sentence is getting restructured in the process of translation. This restructuring consists in changing syntactic functions of words in a sentence. In English as in Russian the theme is generally placed in the beginning if a sentence, though in English this place is reserved for the sentence subject. The theme of the English sentence is represented by the subject though semantically it is not always the doer of the action expressed by the predicate group. It may be its object and even denote some adverbial relations (time, place, cause etc). In Russian the word order is relatively free, therefore the first word group must not necessarily be at the same time its syntactic subject. So in many cases the English subject is replaced by a secondary element, such as object, adverbial modifier with constant changes in the syntactic pattern of the sentence. Very often there occur some lexical changes.

*He was met by his sister.

It is obvious that when we translate from Russian into English the process is reversed.

*В комнате установилась тишина.” – “The room turned silent.”

*В радиотехнических устройствах часто встречаются системы из электрических проводов”. – Radio equipment often includes systems of electric wires.


This is a very important transformation, and I can affect any kind of linguistic units: word forms, parts of speech, sentence elements, types of syntactic relations, sentence types etc.

- Word forms

*The struggles of the Indian people in all parts of the US” – борьба

*A novel about lives of common people” – о жизни

- Parts of speech

It is a common type of replacement for English nouns derived from verbs and denoting actions. In this case the English noun is replaced by a Russian verb.

*It’s our hope that… – мы надеемся, что…

The same is true for nouns derived from verbs with the help of the suffix –er. The situation is complex, because in Russian the corresponding word may not exist at all or such words may denote people of permanent occupations.

*He is an early riser.


Very often English adjectives are replaced by Russian nouns.

*Australian prosperity – процветание Австралии

English comparative forms of adjectives, such as “higher, lower, longer, shorter, better” are frequently replaced by Russian nouns that come from adjective stems.

*They demand higher wages and better living conditions – они требуют повышения зарплаты и улучшения условий жизни.

-Sentence elements

It is sometimes called syntactic restructuring, which consists in changing of the functions of the words in the sentence. As in Russian so in English the theme is usually placed in the beginning of the sentence (subject, object, adverbial relations). In many cases the English subject is very often replaced by some secondary element with constant changes in the syntactic pattern of the whole sentence. Very often it is accompanied by certain lexical changes.

* The new film is much spoken about.

- Sentence types

It is a very common transformation of the simple sentence by a complex one and vice versa. While translating from English into Russian it becomes necessary to replace English structures with non-finite verbal forms by subordinate clauses and in this case we turn the simple sentence into a complex one.


*I want you to speak English.

- Types of syntactic relations

Both Russian and English have syntactic relation of coordination and subordination. Coordination is more characteristic of spoken Russian, so it is often desirable when doing consecutive or immediate translation from English into Russian to replace subordination of sentences by coordination.

*So I started walking way over coast where the pretty cheap restaurants are, because I didn’t want to spend a lot of dough.”

Transformation – a formal linguistic operation, which enables to place 2 levels of structural representation in correspondence.

These transformations are optional from the grammatical point of view, but they are very frequent because they add to the clarity and the simplicity of style.

The transformation helps to avoid ambiguity; it makes the implicit meaning of a sentence explicit. In the phrase “in 1969 report of the Royal Commission on Security” “of” has two meanings:

- A report about the Commission

-A report delivered by the Commission.

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