What is the right German word for "mistranslation" in the following context?

The contemporary history of into-Persian translation witnesses the development of a range of approaches that try to deal with such problems as mistranslation, untranslatability, and unintelligibility.

My translation is as follows:

Die zeitgenössische Geschichte der ins-Persische übersetzung zeigt die entwicklung einer reihe von Ansätzen, die versuchen, mit Problemen wie fehlübersetzung, unübersetzbarkeit und Unverständlichkeit umzugehen.

But there are other words such as Übersetzungsfehler. Is fehlübersetzung the right word in the above context?

  • 2
    Nimm lieber "der Übersetzung ins Persische" statt "der Ins-Persische-Übersetzung" was jedenfalls ein Substantiv wäre. Wie auch Entwicklung, Reihe, Fehlübersetzung und Unübersetzbarkeit, daher sind alle groß zu schreiben. Nov 13, 2019 at 1:05
  • dict.cc/?s=mistranslation
    – Dan
    Nov 13, 2019 at 5:12

2 Answers 2


In my understanding (as a German native speaker) there is a just so slight difference between Fehlübersetzung and Übersetzungsfehler:

Übersetzungsfehler tends to mean a concrete, specific mistake in translation. Also, it refers more to clear mistakes (as opposed to disputable translations).

Fehlübersetzung takes a broader approach and looks rather at an entire phrase or paragraph, or in other words rather at an entire thought than just a word. Also, it would cover problems in translations that perhaps are not 100 per cent false, but are disputable in how they interpret the original.

This includes that you cannot sharply separate Fehlübersetzung from Übersetzungsfehler. Often it is rather the way you - as the speaker - look at things or present things by calling them (broadly and midly) Fehlübersetzung or (narrowly and sharply) Übersetzungsfehler.

It also includes that Fehlübersetzung sounds more polite, whereas Übersetzungsfehler sounds very direct and harsh.

This is related to how the words are built: Übersetzungsfehler is first of all a Fehler; Fehlübersetzung is first of all an Übersetzung; the added nouns are modifiers.

Additionally you may pay attention to emphasis: In both words, the first component (the modifier) is emphasised by pronuncation. That means you could use the words for further differentiation:

Das ist Übersetzungsfehler, kein Tippfehler!


Das ist eine Fehlübersetzung, keine zulässige Interpretation.

Note that these are intricacies altogether. In everyday communication, you can use the one word or the other without getting noticably misunderstood. (With Fehlübersetzung used in oral communication you may be sounding a bit posh, though.)

  • a) Fehlübersetzung denoting a word is semantic narrowing from figurative use of the word that must have meant the act of translation first. b) there is no difference between a word, phrase or text, except quantitatively, so I tend to disagree on that point you made c) There is a difference between error and mistake in some linguistic diction (my only source is wikipedia) and you imply ÜF were an ouright error, but I'd argue it's the other way around, as if just to confuse you, although I agree that the distinction is mostly not very meaningful, except in sciences with set terminology …
    – vectory
    Nov 13, 2019 at 20:52
  • d) highlighting the coda, the last part, would be in line with German being nominally head-last e) whenever you state your mere opinion, somebody will form the exact opposite olinion precisely at that point in time ;) Last but not least, I can only guess you would opt for Übersetzungsf., but extracting the ansser shouldn't be left to the reader, in as much the reader shouldn't make assumptions about your intentions
    – vectory
    Nov 13, 2019 at 20:55
  • @vectory In my understanding of how communication between humans works, the reader (or listener) always makes assumptions about the intentions of the writer (or speaker). These assumptions are based on assumed common experience of interacting with the world. That's the only way humans can communicate. Nov 13, 2019 at 23:08

The German word for mistranslation is


In your German version, I would use the plural for those nouns that are countable:

Die jüngere Geschichte der Übersetzungen ins Persische wird durch eine Reihe unterschiedlicher Ansätze beeinflusst, die versuchen mit Problemen wie Fehlübersetzungen, Unübersetzbarkeit und Unverständlichkeit umzugehen.

  • Isn' there a comma missing?
    – Olafant
    Nov 13, 2019 at 7:32
  • I think it depends on the situation. I think, mistranslation can be a Fehlübersetzung as well as an Übersetzungsfehler. But I admit that I am not as familiar with the English usage as I am with the German. So perhaps you are correct anyway. If not, you published a Fehlübersetzung here, rather than an Übersetzungsfehler. (For the difference, see my separate answer.) Nov 13, 2019 at 11:29
  • @Olafant In meiner Grundschulzeit, als ich Kommaregeln lernte (70er), wäre ein weiteres Komma nach versuchen zwingend gewesen - ich glaube heutzutage ist es optional. Nov 13, 2019 at 13:42

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