How to break lines

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What are line breaks?

One subtitle can be composed of one or two lines. In languages based on the Latin script, the subtitle must be broken into two lines if it's longer than 42 characters (because a longer line is more difficult to read than a subtitle composed of two lines, and some offline players may not display longer lines correctly). The maximum number of lines per subtitle is 2. "Line-breaking" refers to choosing the place where the line is broken, and also, where to end the whole subtitle. To make a line break in Amara, hit Shift+Enter. Note: The maximum number of lines per subtitle is 2.

Generally, each line should be broken only after a linguistic "whole" or "unit," no matter if it's the only line in the subtitle, or the first or second line in a longer subtitle. This means that sometimes it's necessary to rephrase the subtitle in order to make it possible to break lines without breaking apart any linguistic units, e.g. splitting apart an adjective and the noun that it refers to. Other times, you may need to split a subtitle into two separate subtitles, if rephrasing doesn't help with fitting within 42 characters maximum per line.

Rules for what kind of linguistic unit can be broken vary by language, but the following general guidelines can inspire you to make better line-breaking choices in your subtitles.

Don't end the subtitle with a bit of the next sentence

If the subtitle contains the end of a sentence, try not to include the beginning of the next sentence, and instead, put that beginning into the following subtitle. Examples:


Incorrect:

which is how I solved this.
And what I also noticed

is that the blue light went on.

Correct:

which is how I solved this.

And what I also noticed
is that the blue light went on.


Incorrect:

Somehow, this worked really well
in her garage. When you work

on something big,
you need to accept failure.

Correct:

Somehow, this worked really well
in her garage.

When you work on something big,
you need to accept failure.

When to break lines within subtitles - proportional line length

The possible maximum length of a subtitle depends on whether the reading speed is not over 21 characters per second. As long as the reading speed allows it, you can have up to two lines of up to 42 characters in your subtitle. If your maximum length is over 42 characters, you need to break the subtitle into two lines. Ideally, the lines in the two-line subtitle should be more or less balanced in length. So, you should break the line like this:

I adopted a dog, a cat,
three mice, and a goldfish.

...and you should not break the line like this:

I adopted a dog,
a cat, three mice, and a goldfish.

Breaking apart linguistic units for line length

It may be difficult to achieve balance in length when trying not to break apart linguistic units. For example, these lines are broken in a way that preserves similar length, but breaks the linguistic unit of the adjective "Romance" modifying the noun "languages":

I can speak over ten modern Romance
languages and read Latin pretty well.

In such cases, it is better to go with something less balanced, but preserve the linguistic unit. However, you should try to make the lines balanced enough so that neither is shorter than 50% of the other - sometimes even at the cost of breaking language units (which is only the last resort). If a line is shorter than 50% of the other line, it can often distract the viewer more than reading a line where a linguistic unit is broken.

For example, the lines in this subtitle are not balanced for length (34/16 characters):

I learned more about Jane Elliott
on Wikipedia.

An easy way of making the lines more similar in length would be to put the word "Elliott" in the second line:

I learned more about Jane
Elliott on Wikipedia.

However, this would break apart the proper name "Jane Elliott," which should be avoided. Proper names are an example of a linguistic unit that should not be divided. In this case, we could consider breaking apart another linguistic unit:

I learned more about
Jane Elliott on Wikipedia.

Here, we broke apart the verb and the complement. Some linguistic units are more inseparable than others, so if you need to go against non-breaking rules, it is better to break apart another unit and keep them unseparated. Proper names are one example of a unit that should be broken as rarely as possible (you can find more examples below).

Clean line breaks through compressing

Sometimes it may be necessary to rephrase the line in order to make it possible not to break apart linguistic units. For example, in subtitles translated into English, instead of going with this subtitle:

I learned more about Jane
Elliott on Wikipedia.

...you may be able to rephrase your translation (depending on the context) to say:

I learned more about her on Wikipedia.
Then, I read the Wikipedia article.
I learned more about Jane Elliott.
I learned more about her.

This type of rephrasing can be referred to as "compressing" or reducing text. Depending on the context, it may be possible to omit some information, if previous subtitles or other sources (a slide, the viewer's general knowledge) are certain to fill the blanks anyway. This way, you can avoid breaking apart any linguistic units. You can learn more about compressing subtitles from this guide.

Clean line breaks through rephrasing

Of course, rephrasing is not only about making the subtitle so short that it can fit in one line (no longer than 42 characters). Sometimes, it's difficult or impossible to compress so much, but you can change the structure of the subtitle to make it easier to break cleanly. For example:

About Jane Elliott,
I learned more on Wikipedia.

Now, this is not necessarily good English, but the target language that you are translating into may allow this sort of phrasing. If possible, try to rephrase the subtitle to make it break cleanly without the need to sever any linguistic units.

Splitting subtitles when lines can't be broken properly

Sometimes, there is just no way to break the line without splitting a proper name or a grammatical unit, like separating an article from the noun it refers to. In these cases, you can often split the subtitle itself into two separate subtitles, which will allow you to break the line longer than 42 characters. To split a subtitle, shorten the subtitle's duration using the sliders on the timeline, and then insert a new subtitle in the resulting gap by clicking the "plus" button on the subtitle below it.

Important: after you've added a new subtitle while translating, the number of subtitles in your translation will increase, so there will no longer be a 1:1 correspondence between the position of the original subtitle and the translation box. To ensure that you don't start translating subtitles in the wrong boxes and thus de-synchronize the translation, unlock the subtitle scrolling using the "padlock" button at the bottom of the interface, and scroll your translation so that the the position of first untranslated subtitle corresponds to its equivalent in the original subtitles, and then re-lock the scrolling by clicking the "padlock" button again.

Examples of correct and incorrect line-breaking

These examples show incorrect and correct line breaking for various subtitle/line lengths. The possible maximum length of a subtitle depends on how long it can stay on the screen. Unlike in the examples below, line length would normally be different for each subtitle. These examples show line breaks not divided into subtitles of up to two lines (the way we organize lines into subtitles depends on the talk).

Spoken sentence:

This is a very long, verbose piece of prose that no one knows and no one shall remember.

Incorrect short line breaks:

This is a
very long, verbose
piece of
prose that
no one knows and
no one shall
remember.

Correct short line breaks:

This is a very long,
verbose piece
of prose
that no one knows
and no one
shall remember.

Incorrect medium line breaks:

This is a very long, verbose
piece of prose that no one
knows and no one shall remember.

Correct medium line breaks:

This is a very long,
verbose piece of prose
that no one knows
and no one shall remember.

Incorrect long line breaks:

This is a very long, verbose piece of prose that
no one knows and no one shall remember.

Correct long line breaks:

This is a very long, verbose piece of prose
that no one knows and no one shall remember.

Simple rules-of-thumb for line-breaking

It is impossible to provide a list of rules to use with all the languages in the world. Line-breaking rules depend largely on the target language's grammar (and morphology) - on what kind of units are "wholes" in a sentence. The list below contains some rules that can be used in English and several Western-European languages and can serve as an inspiration to searching for similar rules in your own language.

Synchronizing line breaks with the video

When transcribing a talk, part of your job is to choose where one subtitle ends and another begins. This type of "line-breaking" does not always follow the pauses in the talk, and instead must take into consideration things like cuts in the video (scene changes). The rules for line-breaking, and the ways of dealing with problematic things at the end of the line, also refer to the issue of what to put at the end of a subtitle (since the end of a subtitle is just another line break). If you want to learn more about how to synchronize the line breaks (the rules to where and how to end one subtitle and start another), go to this section of the guide to transcribing talks.

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