Technically speaking, both “translate to” and “translate into” are grammatically correct. However, you’re far more likely to hear a native speaker use “translate into” than “translate to”.
This largely comes down to the nature of the verb and the prepositions but, at the end of the day, you can use both.
English prepositions are words that precede a noun or a pronoun. A preposition is simply a word that indicates when or where something is, such as: under, over, after, before, in, on, to, out, etc.
Prepositions can seem arbitrarily specific yet sometimes they don’t matter at all, so with a word such as “translate” should it be “translate to” or “translate into”?
To fully understand why one phrase sounds more natural than the other, keep reading to understand the finer details you may not even realize are at play beneath the surface. With a little nuance, you’ll be able to use translate more naturally.
“To” Versus “Into”
As prepositions go, “to” and “into” are some of the most commonly used words in the English language. The trouble is that they can often be used interchangeably and other times mean completely different things.
“To” can be used as either a directional or a temporal preposition that indicates movement through either time or space.
It often accompanies the preposition “from” to offer a start and endpoint. For example:
- I worked from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
- The cat walked from the bed to its food.
- I ran from my house to the car.
- I walked the dog from the house to the park.
“Into” can also be used as a directional preposition, meaning to place something inside of another object or area:
- I moved into my new home.
- Stuff cheese into the pasta.
- I put the bags into the car.
- I packed the clothes into the suitcase.
Where it gets confusing, though, is that “into” can also be used to talk about transformations—changing from one thing to another. In this case, “into” suggests a complete physical change:
- The caterpillar transformed into a butterfly.
- Their friendship had evolved into love.
- She transformed her artwork into a masterpiece.
- I translated the text into English.
It wouldn’t make sense to use “to” in these sentences because “to” doesn’t carry the same weight as “into”, which suggests a complete transformation.
The Problem with the Verb “Translate”
Here’s where it gets incredibly convoluted. Translating something can be both directional and transformational, depending on how you look at it.
For example, if I took out my Spanish to English dictionary, I would use the text to translate from the Spanish side to the English side of the book. I would physically move from page to page.
However, translating a language is also transformational. If I take an article written in Spanish and rewrite it in English, the text will go through a complete physical change. Therefore, wouldn’t it make more sense to use “into”?
Because of this technicality, it’s grammatically correct to say either “translates to” or “translate into” but, it sounds more natural to say “I translated Spanish into English”.
The complex nature of the verb “translate” makes it difficult to decide which preposition best works in tandem— “to” or “into”. Grammatically, both are fine, but most English speakers would opt to say the transformative “translate into” rather than the directional “translate to”.