Getting a Handle on Polish Typesetting Rules

Getting a Handle on Polish Typesetting Rules

Polish Typesetting

Proper typesetting is critical for authentic, high-quality translation in any language. Let’s look at some examples from the Polish language. When it comes to typesetting, the Polish language is quite different from languages like English and German.

Here are some interesting facts regarding Polish typesetting rules:

Spacing and Separation Rules for Numbers and Punctuation

In Polish, we have spaces before exclamation and question marks, colons and semicolons, after opening quotation marks, before closing quotation marks, and so on. The rules are different, and there are also issues with spaces in numbers. The regular Polish thousand separator for space and decimal separation is a comma. But the thousand separator is used only for numbers that contain more than 4 digits. For example, in Polish correctly written numbers are 15 220,12 and 1020,30. You should never, ever write them like this: 15220,12 or 15220.12.

In Windows, the correct Polish curly quotation marks are ALT+0132 („ – lower nines) and ALT+0148 (” – upper nines):



To use the alternative codes, just press the “ALT” button and then the number (on the numeric keyboard). For example, choose 0132, and when you release the “ALT” button, the symbol will be shown. There are many shortcuts like this. You can find many of them in the character map application. Press the Start button on the desktop or keyboard and in the find bar, enter charmap. (Alternatively you can use the WIN+R shortcut to open quick run window). When you open the character map and choose the symbol or letter, the ALT-code will be shown in the right bottom of the window.

Spacing Rules for Special Symbols in Polish Translation

In Polish, you also need to know the proper spacing around special symbols. For example:

  • word/word
  • 50±5
  • < 50
  • > 50
  • +50
  • 5–50
  • 10 mm
  • 2 kg
  • 2%
  • 2°C
  • Ø5
  • 50 x 50

Of course, it is recommended to use a non-breaking space between a number and a unit of measure or between a number and a special character, but be careful when the text is justified to avoid too much spacing between words and inconsistent spacing as non-breaking. This occurs especially in MS Word, but there is no such problem in InDesign, where non-breaking spaces may be fixed width but spacing is dynamic by default.

Widows and Diverse Types of Orphans in Polish Typesetting

In the typesetting world, there are also some problematic mistranslations between Polish and English nomenclature. There are special challenges with regard to widows and orphans:

  • Bękart. We have a widow called bękart, which is a typesetting error caused by leaving the last line of the paragraph at the beginning of a new column and/or page. See the example in red below:


  • Wdowa. There is another Polish-specific widow called wdowa. This kind of widow is caused when you leave very short text (usually up to 15-20% of width of the column) in the last line. This means that in translation projects, the Polish typesetter usually has more potential errors to look for in the translation than the original typesetter had to be concerned with in the source language. See below for an example of a wdowa.


  • Szewc. We also have another type of orphan called szewc in Polish. This one occurs when we leave the first line of the paragraph at the end of the page or column. See the error highlighted in red below:


  • Sierota. The last common error of this type is quite simply, a regular orphan. In Polish, it is called sierota (or zawieszka), which means orphan, but you cannot call it an orphan, because every English-speaking typesetter will think that you are referring to an error like the one described above. Sierota is just a direct translation of the word “orphan,” but it’s not localized. There’s actually no correct English translation for this type of error, because this “error” is only considered to be an error in the Polish language, and only within Europe. Here are some examples of a sierota typesetting error:


Individual letters must be kept together with the text that immediately follows it using non-breaking whitespace.

Alignment for Business Translations, Diacritics, and the Importance of Unicode

There are also special considerations for Polish translation of advertising and business materials, such as corporate brochures, flyers and so on. Text should be aligned to the left and with disabled hyphenation.

This is especially true in Quark, where even today, there is no high-quality integrated spell checker. So, hyphens are often inserted with mistakes and need to be double-checked. There is an external plugin for Quark which contains a good dictionary, Gwarek. The justified text layout is used in newspapers and books only. In those cases, the hyphenation must remain enabled.

It’s essential to work with Unicode or to have Central Europe (CE) fonts in order to use Polish diacritic marks. Without the UTF8 application and OpenType (OTF) fonts, you will not see any Polish diacritics, such as Ąą, Śś, Żż, Źź, Ćć, Ęę, Ńń, Łł, Óó. In the character map, you can see what letters and symbols the font contains.

Keep in mind that Adobe Framemaker, up until and including version 7.2p158 was not in Unicode and when using it, you needed to change the font from, for example, Helvetica Neue LT Std into Helvetica Neue LT Pro CE to see the diacritic marks of Central European languages. It required changes in paragraph and character styles because the find/change option did not change the font of the variables and cross-references.

Remember also that Framemaker before build 158 could not display Czech and Slovak t-caron letter (ť – it was formed manually by combining the letter “t” and apostrophe “’” with extra kerning) and upper case Polish Z acute (Ź – was manually created by increasing the size of lower case “ź”). Diacritics need to be displayed correctly, but remember, some desktop publishing applications also need them for automatic Index sorting. Adobe Framemaker has Reference pages where the whole alphabet needs to be defined (lower case and upper case letters) to enable correct sorting. If you speak a Western language, the importance of this might not be obvious to you, but it’s actually critical for all languages except WE (Western Europe) languages.

Final Notes on English to Polish Expansion Rates and Typesetting Standards

The main difficulties in professional translation for language pairs involving Polish occurs in conjunction with languages from outside the CE and WE language groups. For example, when English is translated into Polish, complexities arise. Polish takes up more space than English by about 18%, even up to 24% in some cases, so the font needs to be scaled down, spacing must be condensed, and so on.

Other languages represent different challenges – for example, Russian is even longer than Polish and takes up even more space, especially if we refer to the length of words. Just like in the German language, Russian words take up a lot more space. In other words, typesetting material that has been translated into either of those languages requires a lot more detail, and a lot more patience.

As far as I am aware, Poland is the only country in Europe that has its own standards, PN-83/P-55366, written by the Polish Committee for Standardization, covering rules of typesetting used in the Polish language.

If you know of any other country that has its own standards for typesetting, please leave a comment below. I’d also love to hear your feedback about typesetting rules in your language. Do you have examples of tricky typesetting matters in other language combinations? Leave a reply.

About Rafal Kwiatkowski

I’m a translation desktop publishing expert and native Polish translator living in Poland. I collaborate with all of the largest companies in the translation, localization, globalization and internationalization sectors. I’m highly familiar with PN-EN 15038 and ISO 9001:2008 standards and the principles of LQA (LISA QA).



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