Different from what?

That’s what you need to think about when translating verschillende. If it’s clear what the items in question differ from, you can use different (often implying a two-way split or comparison, a dichotomy). But for distinct items that can just be lumped together for the logic, you need to use various or synonyms such as differing, several or multiple.

Various examples where this creates different meanings will perhaps make it clear. Note that in many cases, the Dutch for the “different” case would be andere, which also implies some kind of comparison, rather than verschillende.

  • I have various ideas. (I’ve come up with several thoughts.)
  • I have different ideas. (A comparison: they’re not the same as yours/the previous speaker’s.)
  • Various teams are wearing blue shirts. (Several teams have donned blue kit.)
  • Different teams are wearing blue shirts. (We’re now comparing another set of teams to the ones we were previously talking about.)
  • The countries in the euro used to have different currencies. (Each different from what they have now, the euro)
  • The countries in the euro used to have various currencies. (Several currencies that weren’t all the same)
  • “And now for something completely different.” (Different from whatever has just happened. Various wouldn’t make sense here.)

The combination various different is redundant and you can always drop one of the two.
The pairing all + different implies lots of comparisons and is very useful: “we all have different forenames” means no two are the same. (Try putting “all used to have” in the eurozone examples and see how that gives you two further nuances of meaning – that no two used to be the same, and that each used to have multiple currencies!)

Prevalence: high. The default option for most Dutch writers is blithely to translate verschillend as different. Every time.
Frequency: high. We’re quite often left going “uh? different from what?” during correction work.
Native: sometimes. We’re pretty good at using tautologous combinations like “various different” and “several different” where just the first word is needed.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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