Grammatically Correct

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This & That ― Vignettes of a Professional Journey
a column by Ines Bojlesen

I often get into interesting arguments with translators and editors over the use of a certain word, a verb, or terminology in general. I thoroughly enjoy that this interaction is possible. Not all agencies allow me to contact the translator or editor, or sometimes even to know who they are.

The Portuguese language is rich and complex. Grammar exercises should be a daily practice. I remember some of the rules by heart since they are used frequently. Others, however, send me digging into grammar books or resorting to expert grammar peers.

When questioned about an issue, nothing is less reassuring to your editor or translator than explaining a linguistic choice “because it sounds right.” Or even more daunting is saying, “I googled it.” So many gross errors are perpetuated online!

I have quite a collection of grammar books, the Moderna Gramática Portuguesa by Evanildo Bechara being the primary reference. Other references I use are: Dicionário de Verbos e Regimes by Francisco Fernandes, Dicionário de Regimes de Substantivos e Adjetivos by Francisco Fernandes, Dicionário de Questões Vernáculas by Napoleão Mendes de Almeida, Manual de Redação Jurídica by José Maria da Costa, and Dicionário Analógico da Língua Portuguesa by Francisco Ferreira dos Santos Azevedo.

Many agencies I work with ask me to justify the editing or corrections I make on an editing or proofreading project for an English-into-Portuguese text. The project manager needs to understand my comments, so explanations need to be in English. I always found it tricky to explain Portuguese grammar in English until I found an excellent source to help me out: Modern Portuguese – a Reference Grammar by Mário A. Perini.

And then there are the cases when grammarians, peers, or other resources cannot solve or assure me of the correct answer. In one of these instances, the translation did not “sound right to me” so I changed it to what I believed was correct. The feedback from the translator was that my correction was wrong and she would not accept it. We went back and forth with examples. In this particular case the translator had the final word, so her version was used.

Not quite convinced, I decided to write to the Academia Brasileira de Letras, and use their link to ABL Responde. It was late on a Friday afternoon. I did not expect to receive an answer, let alone so fast. Two hours later I received an email with the explanation I needed:


Pergunta: Agradecemos seu interesse na empresa ou Agradecemos seu interesse pela empresa (carta para candidato a um emprego)

Resposta: Prezada Inês: as duas regências são aceitas, com a preposição em ou com a preposição por (pela).

I have resorted to the Academia Brasileira de Letras website several times since then and have always received a timely answer.

I use the same criterion when translating into English. Grammar rules are a routine challenge, even when writing a simple email to a client. It gets as much dedication and research as I give to Portuguese.

I know this may sound like a shallow subject to bring to this blog. But I experience it daily in my translations. Even in technical manuals, I sometimes get stuck on a grammar issue. After all, grammar is the fabric of our language, especially in its written form. As translators, we cannot underestimate the importance of conveying the message in a grammatically correct manner.

One Comment

  1. Very interesting, as always, Ines!
    I find usage dictionaries an essential tool, and I’m unaware of any in Portuguese. Frustrating.

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