Closed Captions vs Subtitles: Is There a Difference?

June 22, 2021 BY KELLY MAHONEY
Updated: May 3, 2022


Read the Beginner’s Guide to Closed Captioning

Is there a difference between closed captioning vs subtitles?

If you’re a foreign movie aficionado, then you are definitely familiar with using video subtitling. But did you know video subtitles are not interchangeable with captions?

Subtitles translate video dialogue into other languages, so that audiences all over the world can watch videos, movies, and more content without needing to understand the language spoken. They communicate dialogue, but not non-speech elements like sound effects in an audio track.

Video subtitling can be an instrumental tool in reaching untapped global markets and making your video content accessible to other countries in an array of languages.


 Watch: Closed Captions vs. Subtitles 🎥 


Captions vs subtitles

While video subtitles are intended for viewers who can’t understand the language being spoken, captions are intended for viewers who can’t hear the audio. Captions (which can refer to closed captions or open captions) include the dialogue as well as any other relevant audio. They are used to aid the hard-of-hearing by communicating all audio sounds including sound effects, speaker IDs, and other non-speech elements. For most video content, captions are required under United States law. Users can often change the visual display of captions, and their placement on the screen can move to prevent any obstruction of the visual images being presented.

Video subtitles – often referred to as translations – are translated dialogue and don’t include any sound effects. They are intended for viewers who can hear audio, but cannot understand the language. Users can usually select subtitles by clicking the same CC icon they would use to turn on captions. Although subtitles and closed captions have different intentions for use, they are both always synchronized with the media & (for the most part) give users the ability to toggle on/off.


Quick comparison:


  • Identify speakers
  • Change on-screen position when obscuring visual elements
  • Include non-speech elements
  • Required by U.S. law for most video content


  • Translate spoken dialogue into another language
  • Time-synchronized with media
  • Do not include non-speech elements
  • In UK & other places, ‘subtitles’ refer to captions as well


“Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing”

Subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing” or “SDH” are subtitles in the language being spoken that do include non-speech elements, like audio sound effects & speaker identification. Displayed in the same format as typical video subtitles, SDH are intended to provide an accommodation for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers on devices where closed captions are not supported.

Are subtitles the same everywhere?

Outside of the United States and Canada (for example: the UK, Ireland, and most other countries), video subtitling and captioning are one and the same. In other words, the use of the term “video subtitling” does not distinguish between subtitles used for foreign language aid, and captioning used to aid the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Instead, subtitles could refer to subtitles as described above or to captions as described above.



Want to learn more about closed captioning?


beginners guide to captioning


This blog post was originally published by Sofia Enamorado on August 14, 2016 and has since been updated for accuracy, clarity, and freshness.

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