Thomas Urquhart first translated the work into English in the mid-17th century, although his translation was incomplete, and Peter Anthony Motteux completed the translation of the fourth and fifth books. The Urquhart/Motteux version is far from literal, but Urquhart's work was described by J. M. Cohen in the preface to his 1955 translation as "more like a brilliant recasting and expansion than a translation", although Motteux's contribution was criticised as "no better than competent hackwork... [W]here Urquhart often enriches, he invariably impoverishes". The Urquhart/Motteaux translation is out of copyright, and so it has been used for many reprinted editions, including that of Britannica's Great Books of the Western World.
William Francis Smith (1842–1919) made a new translation in 1893, trying to match Rabelais' sentence forms exactly, which renders the English obscure in places. For example, the convent prior exclaims against Friar John when the latter bursts into the chapel,
- "What will this drunken Fellow do here? Let one take me him to prison. Thus to disturb divine Service!"
Smith's version includes copious notes.
John Michael Cohen's modern translation, first published in 1955 by Penguin, "admirably preserves the frankness and vitality of the original", according to its back cover, although it provides limited explanation of Rabelais' word-plays and allusions.
Penguin published a translation by M. A. Screech in 2006 with an explanatory section preceding each chapter and brief footnotes explaining some of the allusions and puns used.