English SDH Timed Text Style Guide

*This document covers the language specific requirements for English. Please make sure to also review the General Requirements Section for comprehensive guidelines surrounding Timed Text deliveries to Netflix. 

1. Accuracy of content

  • Include as much of the original content as possible.
  • Do not simplify or water down the original dialogue.
  • Truncating the original dialogue should be limited to instances where reading speed and synchronicity to the audio are an issue.

2. Character Limitation

  • 42 characters per line

3. Continuity

  • Do not use ellipses (3 dots) or dashes when an ongoing sentence is split between two or more continuous subtitles.

Subtitle 1   I always knew

Subtitle 2   that you would eventually agree with me. 

  • Use an ellipsis to indicate a pause or dialogue trailing off. In the case of a pause, if the sentence continues in the next subtitle, do not use an ellipsis at the beginning of the second subtitle.

Subtitle 1   Had I known...

Subtitle 2   I wouldn’t have called you.

  • Use two hyphens to indicate abrupt interruptions.

-What are you--

-Be quiet!

  • Use an ellipsis followed by a space when there is a significant pause within a subtitle. 

She hesitated… about accepting the job.

  • Use an ellipsis without a space to indicate that a subtitle is starting mid-sentence.

...have signed an agreement.

4. Documentary

  • When ongoing dialogue is interrupted by a speaker’s title, use ellipses at the end of the sentence in the subtitle that precedes it and at the beginning of the sentence in the subtitle that follows it. 

Subtitle 1         I worked on this movie…

Subtitle 2 (FN) DIRECTOR

Subtitle 3         …for a total of six months.

5. Dual Speakers

  • Use a hyphen without a space to indicate two speakers in one subtitle, with a maximum of one speaker per line.

-Are you coming?

-In a minute.

6. Font Information

  • Font style: Arial as a generic placeholder for proportionalSansSerif
  • Font size: Relative to video resolution and ability to fit 42 characters across screen
  • Font color: White

7. Forced Narratives

  • Forced narratives should be in ALL CAPS, except for written passages (e.g., excerpts from books, magazines or newspapers, handwritten notes, social media messages and text messages), which must match the use of uppercase/lowercase as it appears on screen and for foreign dialogue. In order to improve readability, mixed case can also be used for long passages of on screen text (e.g., long written passages used as prologue or epilogue).
  • Never combine a forced narrative with dialogue in the same subtitle.
  • When a forced narrative interrupts dialogue, use an ellipsis at the end of the sentence in the subtitle that precedes it and at the beginning of the sentence in the subtitle that follows it.

Subtitle 1         I don’t think we should…


Subtitle 3         …go any further.

8. Foreign Dialogue

  • When using foreign words, always verify spelling, accents and punctuation, if applicable.
  • Unfamiliar foreign words and phrases should be italicized.
  • Familiar foreign words and phrases which are listed in Webster’s dictionary should not be italicized and should be spelled as in Webster’s dictionary (e.g., bon appétit, rendezvous, doppelgänger, zeitgeist, etc.).
  • Proper names, such as foreign locations or company names, should not be italicized.

9. Italics

  • Italicize the following:
    • Voice-overs such as not-in-scene narrators or the voice of a visible character expressing unspoken thoughts
    • Song lyrics when sung, not quoted (if rights have been granted)
    • Unfamiliar foreign words and phrases
    • Dialogue that is heard through electronic media, such as a phone, television, or computer
    • Only use italics when the speaker is not in the scene(s), not merely off screen or off camera
    • Titles of books, periodicals, works of art, albums, movies, TV shows, radio shows. (For an episode title in a series, use quotation marks)
  • Italics may be used when a word is obviously emphasized in speech and when proper punctuation cannot convey that emphasis (e.g., It was)

10. Numbers

  • From 1 to 10, numbers should be written out: one, two, three, etc.
  • Above 10, numbers should be written numerically: 11, 12, 13, etc.
  • When a number begins a sentence, it should always be spelled out.
  • Times of day:
    • Use numerals when exact times are emphasized: 9:30 a.m.
    • Use lowercase a.m. (ante meridiem) and p.m. (post meridiem) when mentioned in dialogue
    • Spell out words/phrases that do not include actual numbers: half past, quarter of, midnight, noon
    • When o’clock is mentioned in dialogue, always spell out the number: eleven o’clock in the morning
  • Note that the above rules may be broken if line length and/or reading speed are a factor.


  • Quoted words, phrases and sentences are enclosed in double quotation marks; single quotation marks enclose quotations within quotations. 

He told me: "Come back tomorrow."

He said: "'Singing in the Rain' is my favorite song."

  • If the quote extends beyond more than one subtitle, use an open quote at the beginning of the first subtitle and an end quote at the end of the last subtitle.

Subtitle 1   "Good night, good night!

Subtitle 2   Parting is such sweet sorrow

Subtitle 3   that I shall say good night till it be morrow."

  • Use U.S. English rules:
    • Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single.
    • Colons and semicolons follow closing quotation marks.
    • Question marks and exclamation points follow quotation marks unless they belong within the quoted text: 

Which of Shakespeare’s characters said, "Good night, good night"?

Juliet said, "Good night, good night!" 

  • Song titles should be enclosed in quotes.

12. Reading Speed

  • Adult programs: 250 words per minute / 20 characters per second
  • Children’s programs: 200 words per minute / 17 characters per second 

13. Songs

  • Please subtitle all audible song lyrics that do not interfere with dialogue.
  • Please use song title identifiers when applicable - song titles should be in quotes:
    ["Forever Your Girl" playing]
  • Italicize lyrics.
  • Song lyrics should be enclosed with a music note (♪) at the beginning and the end of each subtitle.
  • Use an uppercase letter at the beginning of each line.
  • Use ellipses when a song continues in the background but is no longer subtitled to give precedence to dialogue.
  • Punctuation: only question marks and exclamation marks should be used at the end of a line – no commas or periods. Commas can be used within the lyric line, if necessary.
  • Album titles should be in italics.
  • Song titles should be in quotes.

14. Speaker ID / Sound Effects

  • Use brackets [ ] to enclose speaker IDs or sound effects.
  • Use all lowercase, except for proper nouns.
  • Only use speaker IDs or sound effects when they cannot be visually identified.
  • Use a generic ID to indicate and describe ambient music (e.g., rock music playing over a stereo).
  • Sound effects should be plot pertinent.
  • Never italicize speaker IDs or sound effects, even when the spoken information is italicized, such as in a voice-over. 


Once upon a time, there was…

  • In instances of foreign dialogue being spoken:
    • If foreign dialogue is translated, use [in language], for example [in Spanish]
    • If foreign dialogue is not meant to be understood, use [speaking language], for example [speaking Spanish]
    • Always research the language being spoken – [speaking foreign language] should never be used

15. Special Instructions

  • Dialogue must never be censored.
  • Plot-pertinent dialogue always takes precedence over background dialogue.
  • Deliberate misspellings and mispronunciations should not be reproduced in the translation unless plot pertinent.
  • The slur "nigger" should only be spelled as such in a historical or contextually racist context. Its use in slang, non-racist conversation, or song lyrics should be handled as "nigga".

16. Reference

For all language-related issues not covered in this document, please refer to:


Change Log:


Revised section 10 Numbers – 4th bullet point revised for clarity
Revised section 13 Songs – 8th bullet point revised
Revised section 14 Speaker ID / Sound Effects – 7th bullet point – 3rd item added


Revised section 7.13 Songs – 1st bullet point revised. 2nd bullet point added




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