1. Since people generally speak much faster than the text of their speech can be read, it
is almost always necessary to edit the speech. The subtitler must always edit according
to the amount of time available. Follow the timing conventions (see Timing, p7
2. Where it's necessary to edit, edit everything evenly - do not take the easy way out by
simply removing an entire sentence. Sometimes this will be appropriate, but normally
you should aim to edit out a bit of every sentence.
3. If there is plenty of time for verbatim (or near-verbatim) speech, do not edit
unnecessarily. Your aim should be to give the viewer as much access to the soundtrack
as you possibly can within the constraints of time, space, shot changes, and on-screen
visuals, etc. You should never deprive the viewer of words/sounds when there is time to
include them and where there is no conflict with the visual information.
4. However, if you have a very "busy" scene, full of action and disconnected
conversations, it might be confusing if you subtitle fragments of speech here and there,
rather than allowing the viewer to watch what is going on.
5. It is not necessary to simplify or translate for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers. This is
not only condescending, it is also frustrating for lipreaders.
6. If the speaker is in shot, try to retain the start and end of his/her speech, as these are
most obvious to lipreaders who will feel cheated if these words are removed.
7. Don't automatically edit out words like "but", "so" or "too". They may be short but they
are often essential for expressing meaning.
8. Although it is often tempting to edit by removing conversational phrases like "you
know", "well", "actually", and so on, remember that such phrases can often add flavour
to your text.
9. Avoid editing out names when they are used to address people. They are often easy
targets, but can be essential for following the plot.
10 Your editing should be faithful to the speaker's style of speech, taking into account
register, nationality, era, etc. This will affect your choice of vocabulary. For instance:
register: mother vs mum; deceased vs dead; intercourse vs sex;
nationality: mom vs mum; trousers vs pants;
era: wireless vs radio; hackney cab vs taxi.
11. Similarly, make sure if you edit by using contractions that they are appropriate to the
context and register. In a formal context, where a speaker would not use contractions,
you should not use them either. Regional styles must also be considered: e.g. it will not
always be appropriate to edit "I've got a cat" to "I've a cat"; and "I used to go there"
cannot necessarily be edited to "I'd go there."
12. Having edited one subtitle, bear your edit in mind when creating the next subtitle.
The edit can affect the content as well as the structure of anything that follows.
13. Avoid editing by changing the form of a verb. This sometimes works, but more often
than not the change of tense produces a nonsense sentence and also, if you do edit the
tense, you have to make it consistent throughout the rest of the text.
14. A common subtitling error is to edit a piece of speech before finding out exactly how
much time is available; then, if it emerges that there is more time than anticipated, the
subtitler forgets to go back and reinstate some of the edited-out text.
15. Sometimes speakers can be clearly lipread - particularly in close-ups. Do not edit
out words that can be clearly lipread. This makes the viewer feel cheated. If editing is
unavoidable, then try to edit by using words that have similar lip-movements. Also, keep
as close as possible to the original word order.
16. Do not edit out strong language unless it is absolutely impossible to edit elsewhere
in the sentence - deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers find this extremely irritating and
condescending. Of course, if the BBC has decided to edit any strong language,, then
your subtitles must reflect this in the following ways:
(a) If the offending word is bleeped, put the word BLEEP in the appropriate place in the
subtitle - in caps, in a contrasting colour (white, cyan, yellow or green only), and without
an exclamation mark. If only the middle section of a word is bleeped, show this:
e.g. f-BLEEP-ing . (In this instance, however, you will be unable to use a contrasting
colour for the bleep, as that would add extra spaces within the word.)
(b) If the word is dubbed with a euphemistic replacement - e.g. frigging - put this in.
If the word is non-standard but spellable - e.g. frerlking - put this in, too.
(c) If the word is dubbed with an unrecognisable sequence of noises, leave them out.
(d) If the sound is dipped for a portion of the word, put up the sounds that you can hear
and three dots for the dipped bit: e.g. "Keep your f...ing nose out of it!" (Never use
more than three dots.)
(e) If the word is mouthed, use a label:
e.g. So (MOUTHS) f...ing what?
When the content has been edited for strong language you should allow time for the
following disclaimer to appear at the end of the AV clip.
The BBC has removed strong language
from this film’s soundtrack. The
subtitles match this edited version.
(White on a Black background)
This explains the position to lipreaders.
Give the disclaimer a generous timing where possible (i.e. 8 seconds for the 3 lines it
If you need to write “clip” instead of “film”, “programme” or “show” in the disclaimer.
1. Subtitles must be on screen for long enough to be read by a deaf or hard-of-
hearing viewer who will also be trying to take in other visual information at the
same time (the action/facial expressions/graphics, etc).
2. In both live and pre-recorded subtitling, timings are intended to be flexible.
The standard timings shown in the Appendix are intended to provide general
guidelines, but should not be taken too literally. When assessing the amount
of time that a subtitle needs to remain on the screen, it is important for the
subtitler to think about much more than the number of characters on the
screen; this would be an unacceptably crude approach.
3. It is crucial that subtitles are displayed for a sufficient length of time for
viewers to read them. The subtitle presentation rate for pre-recorded
programmes should not normally exceed 140 words per minute. In
exceptional circumstances, for example in the case of add-ons, the higher
rate of 180 words per minute is permitted.
Less than preferred time
Do not dip below the standard timings unless there is no other way of getting round a
problem. Circumstances which could mean giving less reading time are:
Give less time if giving the standard timing would involve clipping a shot, or crossing
into an unrelated, "empty" [containing no speech] shot. However, always consider
the alternative of merging with another subtitle.
Avoid editing out words if they can be lipread, but, again, only in very specific
circumstances: i.e. when a word or phrase can be read very clearly even by non-
lipreaders, and if it would look ridiculous to take out or change the word.
Avoid editing out catchwords if a phrase would become unrecognisable if edited.
Give less time if a joke would be destroyed by adhering to the standard timing, but only
if there is no other way around the problem, such as merging or crossing a shot.
Critical information in a news item or factual AV content
The main aim when subtitling news is to convey the “what, when, who, how, why”. If
an item is already particularly concise, it may be impossible to edit it into subtitles at
standard timings without losing a crucial element of the original.
Very technical items
These may be similarly hard to edit. For instance, a detailed explanation of an economic
or scientific story may prove almost impossible to edit without depriving the viewer of
vital information. In these situations a subtitler should be prepared to vary standard
timings to convey the full meaning of the original.
Try to allow extra reading time for your subtitles in the following circumstances:
Try to give more generous timings whenever you consider that viewers might find a
word or phrase extremely hard to read without more time.
Aim to give more time when there are several speakers in one subtitle.
Allow an extra second for labels where possible, but only if appropriate.
Allow more time as these are harder to read.
Visuals and graphics
When there is a lot happening in the picture, e.g. a football match or a map, allow
viewers enough time both to read the subtitle and to take in the visuals. (See
If, for example, two speakers are placed in the same subtitle, and the person on the
right speaks first, the eye has more work to do, so try to allow more time.
Give viewers more time to read long figures (e.g. 12,353).
Aim for the upper end of the timing range if your subtitle crosses one shot or more, as
you will need longer to read it.
Slower timings should be used to keep in sync with slow speech.
It is also very important to keep your timings consistent. For instance, if you have
given 3:12 for one subtitle, you must not then give 4:12 to subsequent subtitles
of similar length - unless there is a very good reason: e.g. slow speaker/on-
If there is a pause between two pieces of speech, you may leave a gap
between the subtitles - but this must be a minimum of one second, preferably
a second and a half. Anything shorter than this produces a very jerky effect.
Try not squeeze gaps in if the time can be used for text.
1. A short and familiar word or phrase - 1.12 to 2 seconds.
2. Up to half a line - 2 to 2.12 seconds.
Where do you live?
See you tomorrow.
3. One line - 2.12 to 3 seconds.
How long will it take us to go home?
He's got a real headache.
4. One line and a little bit - 3.12 seconds.
How long will it take Johanna to go
5. Up to one and a half lines - 4 to 4.12 seconds.
It is important to tell her about
the decision we made.
6. Two lines - 5 to 6 seconds.
I think it would be a very good idea
to keep dangerous dogs on a leash.
7. Two lines and a little bit - 6.12 seconds.
How long will it take the whole cast
to come home by taxi to Duals, North
8. Two and a half lines - 7 seconds.
The best thing about going abroad is
that you don't have to put up with
the British weather.
9. Three lines - 7.12 to 8 seconds.
What will the City do about the Tory
Government's humiliating defeat
in the House of Commons last night?
1. Subtitles should start and end at logical points in a sentence. Aim to divide up the
text into whole sentences. If this is not possible, aim at least to end every subtitle at a
logical mid-sentence point: e.g. at the end of a phrase or clause.
2. If a subtitle consists of part of a sentence, try to put the next sentence in a new
subtitle, rather than tagging it on to the part-sentence.
So, try to avoid subtitles like this:
(a) Wouldn't it be fascinating
(b) if it WAS Elizabeth Fitton? Liz, you
wanted a rational explanation.
The following sequence would be preferable:
(a) Wouldn't it be fascinating
(b) if it WAS Elizabeth Fitton?
(c) Liz, you wanted
a rational explanation.
It may be possible to break a long sentence into two or more separate sentences
and to display them as consecutive subtitles e.g. 'We have standing orders, and we
have procedures which have been handed down to us over the centuries.' becomes:
We have standing orders
They have been handed down to us
over the centuries.
This is especially appropriate for 'compound' sentences, i.e. sentences consisting of
more than one main clause, joined by coordinating conjunctions 'and', 'but', 'or';
This procedure is also possible with some 'complex' sentences, i.e. sentences
consisting of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses joined by
subordinating conjunctions such as 'since', 'when', 'because', etc or by relative
pronouns such as 'who', 'that': 'All we wanted was a quiet chat just you and me
together, but you seemed to have other ideas.' becomes:
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