We’re writing for a project with a unique mandate: make it easy to translate into French. This is a challenge because we do not know which gender the player will choose to play. This problem must be unique to game writing, so we thought we’d write up a little cheat sheet for people writing in English who may not know what problems the French translators may encounter.
1. Avoid simple past tense and future perfect with gendered pronouns as direct objects. For example “You killed me!” or “I hope you won’t have killed me by then” would have different spellings in French depending on the gender of “me.” Ok: “You killed Adriane!” “I hope you won’t have killed Adriane by then.”
2. Avoid “etre” verbs in the simple past tense and future perfect when the subject is gender unknown. Fortunately, there are only 16, but they’re pretty major: to come, to arrive, to enter, to climb, to stay, to return, to turn back, to be born, to go, to depart, to leave, to get down, to fall, to come back, to become, to die. Click here to find out more about verbs that take etre.
3. Avoid reflexive verbs in simple past or future perfect with the subject an unknown gender. So what are reflexive verbs? These types of verbs inherently reflect back on the subject, ie “I hurt myself,” “I washed myself.” Less obviously: “To amuse oneself,” “to have fun,” and “to be interested” also fall into this category.
4. Avoid adjectives describing your unknown gender. “You’re smart!” “I’m stupid!” — these and most other adjectives in French have different spellings based on the gender of the person described. That said, many exceptions exist, like “orange.” Rather than sharing an exhaustive list, try to avoid them. Ok: “That was a smart thing you did.”
5. Watch for plural subjects with one gender unknown. The above rules dealt mostly with singular masculine or feminine. However, you may find an instance where the unknown gendered person is referred to in a group. If this group consists entirely of males, or males and females, then you can proceed with impunity. However if the group may consist entirely of females, or may not depending on user choice, you will have to follow the guidelines above.
Next week: gender unknown for Yemeni Arabic. Just kidding! You don’t want to know about the duals. Do you find these guidelines similar for other romance languages, such as Spanish? Would you find it helpful to learn about other languages’ issues?