What are Subtitles and How Do They Differ From Captions?

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Subtitles are a powerful tool that bring quality content to audiences worldwide, in all languages. From giving moviegoers the chance to watch a foreign film in their own language to helping make online content accessible to a global audience, subtitles help everyone understand video content. 

What is a Subtitle?

In the context of video content, here’s a simple subtitle meaning or definition — Subtitles are lines of text at the bottom of the screen that translate the spoken dialogue into another language. The most common example of subtitles is in movies, but they can also be used in TV shows and other content such as online videos and social media clips.

They’re similar to captions in the way that they can act as accessibility tools for the deaf or hard of hearing. However, this is not their main function. 

Is There a Difference Between Captions and Subtitles?

The terms subtitle and caption are often used interchangeably, yet there are several key differences between open/closed captions and subtitles


  • Captions are lines of text that transcribe what is being said audibly on a video, movie, or program
  • Captions also give details about other audio cues like sound effects and background music
  • Captions help deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals understand spoken words and other audio information


  • Subtitles are translated captions of audio files, often foreign language films, motion pictures, or television programs
  • Subtitles transcribe a film’s native language to the audience’s language
  • Multinational streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV, Hulu, or Disney +  can display subtitles in many languages

Alongside these points, the key difference between open/closed captions and subtitles is that subtitles assume that the viewers can hear the audio, their main role being to help viewers understand a video when they don’t speak the language it’s been filmed in. 

In other words:

Captions are transcriptions. Subtitles are translations.

How to Use Subtitles 

Adding subtitles to your video content is a fairly simple process, but different content platforms have varying standards for subtitles and captions. In fact, in some cases, those guidelines are federal law. This means it’s important to know how to use subtitles correctly before starting to add them to your content. 

These laws began being implement in 1993, when the ADA required that live public television have closed captioning. The law evolved and soon it became necessary to provide captions for previously aired television programs as well. This was the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). 

Fast forward to now and the law is still evolving.  In early 2018, the U.S. government updated the law to make government communications accessible to those with disabilities. It was an amendment to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act called Section 508. The new standards aligned with the globally-accepted video accessibility requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

These regulations can make it hard to know when subtitles or captions are needed. But, as a rule, adding easy-to-read subtitles will ensure that your video content can be understood but a multilingual audience. To help you create quality content, here are some best practice tips for adding video subtitles:

How to add Subtitles to a Video

You can easily add subtitles to your video content using a range of online tools. Here are some simple steps that you can follow for adding subtitles in any language using most online services:

  1. Create a transcript for your video and translate it into your desired language 
  2. Convert your transcript into an .srt file 
  3. Upload your .srt file and video file to a subtitling service 
  4. Download your finished video

Rev’s subtitling service will automatically create a transcript and subtitles for your video – all you have to do is upload your clip and we’ll do the rest.

Best Practices for Subtitle Formatting

Once you have your subtitles, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure optimal formatting and boost your video content even further:

  • Limit each line’s characters (not words) to 32
  • Keep text visible onscreen for 3 to 7 seconds
  • Align text to the left, not the center
  • Time-sync subtitles to the audio
  • Identify multiple speakers by name 
  • Use upper and lowercase letters, not all caps
  • Use an easy-to-read font, such as Helvetica

Source: Berkeley Accessibility Hub, Iowa State University ELO Design and Delivery

Where to get Subtitles

Rev.com offers both subtitle translations and closed captions for videos. Get started by uploading your video here to get subtitles

Related Blogs 

When Are Closed Captions Required by Law?

How to Add Captions and Subtitles in Adobe Premiere Pro in 2021

How to Add Captions to Videos on Different Video Sites & Tools

How to Add Closed Captions and Subtitles to TikTok Clips

What is an SRT File? How to Create & Use SRT Files