I would like to know a little more about subtitling standards employed when distributing films to different countries.

I've searched about it, but I didn't find reliable information or several sites listed different standards.

Are there accepted standards used by the film industry for subtitling? If not one single standard, then what do possible standards depend on? Country, filmmakers, distribution company...

Besides everything I might not know, what I care the most about is:

  • Characters per line

    The default value of editors is 45 per line and, although rare, a few sentences, like big explanations, seem very lengthy to the eyes

  • Foreignisms

    Should they be quoted, braced or italic?

  • Line balancing

    Should the second line always be longer than the first? Sometimes, with long words, it's not possible but, is this even a standard?

  • Short sentences

    What about short sentences like:

    Jack?! What do we do now?!

    In this fictional line, as example, it's clear that the person speaking makes a pause after saying "Jack".

    Should it be kept as in this example or break "Jack?!" in one subtitle and the rest in another, regardless the in-between pause annoyance the editor always complains about?

    The same for contemplative sentences, like:

    Well... You could do this, this and that...

    Or colloquial mannerisms:

    Look, in my opinion you should do...


1 Answer 1


There is no single standard for style formatting of subtitles or captioning. As @BCdotWeb stated. It is dictated by the company you work for. Much like any other type of writing, there are multiple Style Guides you can choose of to format your text.

For example, the BBC's style guide for online video.

Or PBS' s guide half way down this page.

Then there is the American Council for the Blind recommended Guidelines for Audio Description (Warning: Word Doc).

The most influential may be the National Captioning Institute, first created when PBS pushed Congress to require captioning technology for the hard of hearing in 1970s. They are the ones who got subtitle and close captioning as we know it started.

National Captioning Institute Described Media "Style Guide" (No web link available).

Then there is the scene, less than legal industry of unauthorized releases, with many scene groups having their own preferred method, though many just rip the official captioning. Dub groups have their own translation guides as well. And any number of individuals who take one for the team and submit subs for their favorite movies or shows, in a very vigilante lone wolf manner.

There is no right way to do this. Pick one you like and stick to it.

  • Considering that's a fan made job and that there's no official standard, I think that works best to merge common points between them all and stick to it for consistency. And that's what I did! Although i did find information about the so called padding expressions (well, look...) that don't need to be included in the captioning, I didn't find anything specific (or close enough) of my Short Sentences entry. In that example scenario, should I split the name of the person listening to what is going to be said? Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 14:10
  • @brunoaugusto no, leave it one line, unless the pause is noticeably long imho.
    – cde
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 14:57
  • What "company"? A subtitling company? The movie's production studio? A foreign studio responsible for distributing the film? Or a different company employed by them?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 12:16
  • @NapoleonWilson fixed link, as for what company, any company that wants/needs subtitling or captioning done.
    – cde
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 0:10
  • @cde But it's not clear what company is responsible for doing so, that's the point.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 0:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .