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Placeholders: How to translate around them

Working with placeholders is a skill that not many marketing translators have developed, but we all should. Because not all content is static, placeholders play such a huge role in most digital and automated text environments.

A placeholder (or placeholder text) allows for the insertion of dynamic content. It’s a character, word, or string of characters that temporarily takes the place of the final data. It may also indicate where a programmer needs to add specific code that they have not yet written.

As a result, placeholders need to appear in the translated text even if they are moved around for the sake of syntax.

What are placeholders and what’s their importance in digital text environments?

Placeholders, also known as placeholder text, are characters, words, or strings of characters that temporarily stand in for the final data or content. They play a crucial role in digital and automated text environments where content needs to be dynamic and adaptable.

Instead of displaying static information, placeholders allow for the insertion of personalised or contextual data based on the user, system variables, or other dynamic factors.

By understanding the purpose and significance of placeholders, translators can accurately preserve and convey the intended dynamic nature of the content, contributing to a seamless user experience in different languages.

What placeholders look like

Example 1

In the verbal phrase

Printing page %0 / %1″ 

%1 stands for the total number of pages of a certain while %0 stands for the specific page number that is being printed at the moment the message comes up for the user. Both %0 and %1 are placeholders, and they are replacing the final data that users will see when this UI string goes live.

Example 2

In the noun phrase

Dear [user:first_name],”

which is very normal at the beginning of automated e-mails, [user:first_name] stands for the first name of each e-mail recipient. When whoever in charge of sending an automated e-mail with a placeholder like this one clicks on “send”, the system will automatically replace the placeholder with the first name of each recipient.

Should placeholders be translated?

If you find placeholders in the source string, the exact same ones must appear in the translation. You should treat them the same way you treat a tag. Some placeholders will include actual words, such as {{MoreInfoButton/}} to describe what the placeholder refers to.

However, when translating, the entire placeholder (including any actual words that you would normally translate if they were not in a placeholder) should be kept intact and untranslated. Therefore, you simply insert placeholders in the translation without altering them.

How do I know where to insert a placeholder?

Any expert marketing translator working with UX/UI knows that the position of placeholders must make sense in the target text syntax even if the placeholder itself is left untranslated. In other words, the placeholder should appear where the final text it is replacing will be appearing.

For example, in the noun phrase:

“Please remove the {{item:colour}} bag to check out

{{item:colour}} will be replaced by an actual colour name with adjectival function (it will be modifying “bag”).

If we take Spanish as an example, because the unmarked or typical position of adjectives is after the noun (not before, as in English), the placeholder will have to be moved accordingly in the translated text. The result would therefore be::

“Elimine el bolso {{item:colour}} para proceder al pago

where “bolso” (bag) comes before {{item:colour}} (the adjective). In other words: context, context, context!

Common challenges in placeholder translation

In the world of localisation, translating placeholders can present unique challenges, particularly when it comes to country-specific contexts. Let’s explore an example taken from a hypothetical project to illustrate the complexities involved.

Consider the following string:


While translating this phrase into different languages, it becomes evident that placeholders like {COUNTRY_NAME} and {COUNTRY_SPECIFIC_ITEM} require careful handling to maintain linguistic and cultural accuracy.

For instance, in English, it might be as simple as replacing the placeholders with the appropriate country name and a specific item.

However, in languages like German, noun declension based on case, gender, and number becomes crucial. This means that the translation of {COUNTRY_NAME} and {COUNTRY_SPECIFIC_ITEM} would differ depending on whether they are used in the nominative, accusative, or dative case:

  • I’m from Argentina –> Ich komme aus Argentinien
  • I’m from Switzerland –> Ich komme aus der Schweiz

To tackle these challenges, translators must possess a deep understanding of the target language’s grammar rules, cultural context, and linguistic intricacies. They need to carefully analyse and adapt the placeholders while considering gender agreements, noun declensions, and appropriate articles.

A real-life example

Take a look at Kristina Levchenia’s example below.


It’s UX localization o’clock! 🥳 In a recent project, I needed to localize this string: “Streaming in {COUNTRY_NAME}?” In English, you can easily replace the placeholder with the name of any country and be done with it. However, those solutions don’t read fluently and can spoil the user experience. But what about other languages? In French, the preposition changes depending on the country, e.g.: en France, au Maroc, aux Pays-Bas.

In German, the names of some countries have an article that needs to be declined, e.g.: die Schweiz → in der Schweiz. In Russian, the country name itself must be declined, e.g.: Россия → в России. So, what are the typical solutions?

– To use all possible prepositions (separated by the slash) or just the most common one
– To place a colon between the preposition and the placeholder to avoid declining the country name or the article
– To add the word “country” before the placeholder and decline it instead

So, I decided to start from scratch. To avoid declension in Russian, I used the placeholder as the subject of the sentence and wrote a new microcopy based on the context: “{COUNTRY_NAME} restricts* access to the website?”

I shared my solution with the members of our localization team, and some of them used the same approach.💡 Localization techniques and strategies can often be applied across different languages. So, it’s crucial that the team members can communicate and share solutions to localization challenges.

*If your list of placeholder variables includes country names in the plural, here’s another possible solution: “{COUNTRY_NAME} – is it the country where you’re streaming?”

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Maria Scheibengraf Crisol Translation Services SaaS Translation Services

Author: Maria Scheibengraf

Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.

  • Avatar for Silvana Piredda
    Silvana Piredda 1:11 am

    Great explanation! I work with placeholders almost on a daily basis and I think it’s something that requires translators to use a great deal of common sense because you have to weigh many factors, such as space constraints, gender (or gender-neutral) preferences, etc.

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