Don’t use Polish word order when you write in English

It is very common to use the word order of you native language when you write in a foreign language. It is part of what linguists call “first-language interference”, and it leads to a vast range of errors. This post looks at just one of the most common mistakes. Here is a typical example:

WRONG
The Draft Report was prepared solely for the use of the Company; however it was not clearly stated what was the purpose of the Report.

The section in red is a word-by-word translation of the Polish: nie zostało jasno stwierdzone jaki był cel Raportu. But the correct English sentence is as follows:

RIGHT
The Draft Report was prepared solely for the use of the Company; however the purpose of the Report was not clearly stated.

The difference between the sentences is that the Polish version puts the verb phrase (nie zostało jasno stwierdzone) before the subject (cel Raportu), whereas the correct English version puts the subject (the purpose of the report) before the verb phrase (was not clearly stated). This applies to all sentences like this (this one is in the passive, but it applies equally to active sentences). Here are some more examples:

WRONG
If the Parties do not settle a dispute within 30 days of receiving the proper notification there shall apply the following provisions.
(Polish word order – zastosowanie będą miały następujące postanowienia)

RIGHT
If the Parties do not settle a dispute within 30 days of receiving the proper notification the following provisions shall apply.

WRONG
Then the Company will send more detailed questions, in response to which there will be prepared updated versions of the memoranda.
(Polish word order – opracowane zostaną uaktualnione wersje memorandów)

RIGHT
Then the Company will send more detailed questions, in response to which updated versions of the memoranda will be prepared.

 

 

It is common in formal Polish to start a sentence with a passive verb. This structure does not work in English – again we need to start with the subject:

Dodano wymóg, aby podmioty, które sprzedały…
There was added a requirement under which entities that have sold…
A requirement was added under which entities that have sold…

Zobowiązano podmioty…
There was imposed an obligation on entities…
An obligation was imposed on entities…

Dodano przepis umożliwiający ministrowi…
There was added a provision that enables the minister…
A provision was added that enables the minister…

Similarly, sentences that start with “It is forbidden to [verb]” are wrong. Instead use “[Noun] is forbidden”. For example: 

WRONG
It is forbidden to store radioactive materials, heavy toxic compounds and explosives, unless storage of such materials has been agreed with the Lessor, and the Lessee holds relevant permits in this scope.
(Polish word order – Zakazane jest składowanie…/ Zakazuje się składowania…)

RIGHT
Storage
of radioactive materials, heavy toxic compounds and explosives is forbidden, unless storage of such materials has been agreed with the Lessor and the Lessee holds relevant permits in this scope.

The verb “to store” has become the noun “storage”. This change is actually consistent with the Polish – where składowanie is also a noun.

 

 

The following example demonstrates another related mistake:

WRONG
Under Polish law, the parties may choose any law to govern their agreement, provided that there exists a sufficient link between the law chosen and the agreement.

In this example the use of “there exists” derives from literally translating the Polish construction, i.e. istnieje wystarczający związek. Again, like in the examples I gave you in the other tips, the verb is put before the subject. So the sentence may be corrected according to the same pattern as the other examples:

Under Polish law, the parties may choose any law to govern their agreement, provided that a sufficient link exists between the law chosen and the agreement.

But there is another, better way of correcting it. “Exists” can simply be substituted with “is”, and the result is a more natural English sentence:

RIGHT
Under Polish law, the parties may choose any law to govern their agreement, provided that there is a sufficient link between the law chosen and the agreement.

The same rule applies to “there occurred”:

WRONG
In a claim dated 4.12.2011, the Contractor proved that there occurred a disruption in the performance of the Contract, which resulted in a delay in its completion.
(Polish word order – miała miejsce przerwa)

RIGHT
In a claim dated 4.12.2011, the Contractor proved that there was a disruption in the performance of the Contract, which resulted in a delay in its completion.

And the same rule applies to “there arises”:

WRONG
If there arises any dispute related to this issue, it will be resolved by a court.
(Polish word order – w przypadku wystąpienia jakiegokolwiek sporu)

RIGHT
If there is any dispute related to this issue, it will be resolved by a court.

And the same rule may even apply to “there was made”:

WRONG
The Parties represent that in the Second Amendment Agreement there was made an obvious error in the definition of the Total Commitment.
(Polish word order – został popełniony oczywisty błąd)

RIGHT
The Parties represent that in the Second Amendment Agreement there was an obvious error in the definition of the Total Commitment.

However, if the making of the error is essential to the meaning, then the sentence should be corrected according to the model I gave you in the earlier examples:

RIGHT
The Parties represent that in the Second Amendment Agreement an obvious error was made in the definition of the Total Commitment.

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One Response to Don’t use Polish word order when you write in English

  1. meredithe says:

    Great post! Love this blog! Thank you

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