Resources for translating contracts (6): Some tips for improving Spanish-to-English legal translation

This straight-to-the-point paper by Daniel Kaplan has some useful tips for translating contracts.

1. False friends

Kaplan points out a couple of false friends you often come across in contracts: celebrar and ejecutar. I.e., in the context of contracts:

“Celebrar” means to enter into/sign/execute and not celebrate

“Ejecutar” means perform and not execute

Of course, ejecutar/execute is a bit of a joker in the pack that can mean different things in both languages at different times, so it always needs to be paid attention to.

But, if you translate at the sentence level and even higher (taking into account the whole document), you can usually see fairly quickly what a tricky term like this means in a given context.

2. Beware of how you translate de acuerdo con

Kaplan also talks about the difference in meaning between “according to” (source of information) and “in accordance with” (source of authority) as translations for de acuerdo con, which can mean either.

Of course, some say, dictionaries included, that “according to” is synonymous with “in accordance with”. Although, as a translator, it’s probably best to know and go for the more accepted usage (unless you personally have something against “in accordance with”).

Indeed, although I don’t remember ever being explicitly aware of this difference, I have a feeling I always translate de acuerdo con following this distinction — it does appear more standard or at least more natural.

Again, if you translate at the sentence level (as opposed to the word level), which I think most translators do (human ones, at least), and look to sort out the meaning at that level, you should always pick out this difference in meaning instinctively and translate accordingly.

You also have to be of the philosophy that there’s no one set translation for any given word. But again, I’d wager most translators think like this.

In any case, this is a good point to have spelt out.

3. “or-ee” suffixes

Kaplan suggests using “or-ee” suffixes to distinguish between the parties instead of more literal translations that may lead to confusion (e.g., “contractor” and “contracting party”). He even gives a list of them:

Taken from Kaplan's paper.

“or-ee” suffixes. Image taken from Kaplan’s paper.

Some drafting experts advise against using such terms, which they say also lead to confusion. Maybe they’re right, but from a translator’s point of view, when we feel we can’t change the party name to what the drafting experts might suggest (i.e., often the party’s actual name), I think the “or-ee” suffixes are a good option. As long as we stick to ones that can be understood.

4. List of here- and there- adverbs

Along similar lines, Kaplan provides a list of pronominal, here- and there-, adverbs with their plain English meanings:

Definitions for pronominal adverbs. Table from Kaplan.

Definitions for pronominal adverbs. Table from Kaplan.

And while I gather he includes them so you can learn how to use them in your translations to give them more of a legal ring, you could also go the other way and use the definitions to come up with a more understandable alternative if all that comes to you is a pronominal adverb that you decide may be a little obscure. Either way, it’s a useful list.

5. Ordinal versus Cardinal

Spanish use ordinal numbers for numbering clauses (primero) whereas English uses cardinals (1). This is fairly obvious, but it’s nice to see someone explicitly pointing it out. If I remember correctly, this is actually how I found this paper in the first place: looking for someone who was making just this point!


Kaplan, D., (2011) ‘Some tips for improving Spanish-to-English legal translations’, Mutatis Mutandis. Vol. 4, No. 2. pp. 287–293, [Online]. Available in PDF here

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Written by Rob Lunn

Rob Lunn is a freelance translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English and specialises in legal translation.

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