‘Translate to’ vs. ‘translate into’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more.

It is sometimes hard to tell whether to use “to” or “into” in English, and I am afraid people have to learn it by heart in most but the very literal senses. The distinction between translate to and translate into is one such example.

When you speak about the target language of translation, the usual preposition is into:

She translated the text into German. (correct)
She translated the text to German. (see below)

There are a handful of English dialects in which “translate to” is an acceptable variant of “translate into”, but the majority of native speakers consider the variant with “into” more natural. Furthermore, the variant with “into” is 200x more common in English literature than the variant with “to”. It is therefore better to avoid the variant with “to” completely.

When pointing out that one phrase is a translation of another, i.e. when the “target” is a phrase rather than a language, to is used instead:

“Good morning!” was automatically translated to “Guten Morgen!”. (correct)
“Good morning!” was automatically translated into “Guten Morgen!”. (wrong)

Translating from language (in)to language

The situation is different when speaking about something being translated “from a language (in)to another language”, where suddenly both variants are common:

She translated the text from English into German. (correct)
She translated the text from English to German. (also possible)

While the variant with “into” is more common in English literature (and is also usually the the variant described in dictionaries and therefore the more recommendable variant for non-native speakers), the variant with “to” seems to be more common on the Internet and in everyday usage.

Note that when “language to language” is used as an adjective phrase, the situation is reversed, and only “to” is common:

We need to prepare an English-to-French translation. (correct)
We need to prepare an English-into-French translation. (uncommon)

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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