I myself asked questions about expressions equivalent to the ones I use in my native language. I am not saying these questions should be avoided, or accepted; I would like to understand how such questions are perceived from who answers them.

From a side, translating expressions is probably one of the way English learners write English sentences.
On the other side, who answers could wonder why there is the need of using a specific expression when there is already a phrase that can be used for expressing what the OP wants to say.

How are questions about the equivalent of an expression used in another language perceived?

2 Answers 2


I enjoy these questions.

They typically ask not just how a given thought may be expressed in English (which is an invitation to a laundry list of possibilities) but whether or how it may be expressed with proverbial or epigrammatic or allusive force. And there is the added challenge of seeking an expression which parallels your original in metaphor or rhythm or structure.

So these questions are more interesting, and require me to think more deeply about my own language; which is really what I'm here for.


I think expressions that are idiomatic in a foreign language may rely too much on the native language and culture, where a literal translation doesn't carry the same or any meaning.

In such a case, I think its more of a cultural question (based on a situational context) rather than a language question. In my opinion this case could be considered off-topic.

For example:

I let the cat out of the bag.

There may be a way to say this concept in a foreign language, but it won't be a literal translation. It will be more likely based on the situation and not the words used.

So if I were asking how to say this in a foreign language group, it might be better to ask how do you say

I said I would not tell anyone what you did, but then I told the principal.

in another language.

  • Possibly the expression is not idiomatic in the foreign language but also used in English. The OP cannot know this without asking, thus I think it is a good idea to mention the possibly idiomatic expression as well as giving a description of its meaning. "To let the cat out of the bag", for example, is well known in German as "Die Katze aus dem Sack lassen". Thus asking for an equivalent of it would lead to "To let the cat out of the bag", but the general description of the incident might not lead to that phrase.
    – Stephen
    Mar 2, 2013 at 20:33

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