Playing for keeps

There are a few small words that bespeckle native English yet are rarely used by non-natives. A very useful one is “keep”.

In particular, keep is widely used for emphasizing actions that continue for some length of time, such as – to quote two lyrics with links to my home town of Birmingham – “Keep right on to the end of the road” and “Keep on running”.

  • It can be a nice way of handling steeds in phrases like “wordt steeds moeilijker” = keeps getting more awkward
  • It can be a nice way of avoiding formal-sounding translations of continu and aanhouden => it just keeps on raining
  • As well as the other meanings of the word that Dutch authors are more familiar with (retain possession – “keep the best for myself”; remain unchanged – “keep quiet” or “keep still”)

The title is just a pun and has nothing much to do with the post content. It’s a phrase meaning something is real and serious – it genuinely matters and there’s no going back.

Prevalence: high. Dutch often doesn’t have a good equivalent, or has a “default option” that everyone uses instead.
Frequency: moderate. Particularly worth considering when aiming for an informal or accessible style.
Native: no. Although even native translations can miss out on where the small words should be used – the trap of translating syntax rather than semantics.

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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