Abbreviations: A Concise Guide to Understanding and Using Them

Last Updated on October 5, 2023

Abbreviations have become an essential aspect of modern communication, enabling people to convey messages more efficiently and concisely. Existing in various formats, these shortened representations of words or phrases can be found in numerous fields, from business and medicine to computing and government. As the world continues to evolve and develop at a rapid pace, the need for clear and precise communication methods has resulted in an ever-growing collection of abbreviations.

One can differentiate abbreviations into two primary types: acronyms and initialisms. Acronyms consist of the initial letters of a long name or phrase that form a new word, such as NATO for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On the other hand, initialisms refer to a long phrase abbreviated to its initial letters, with each letter being pronounced individually, like FBI for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Understanding the origins, usage, and rules surrounding abbreviations is crucial for effective communication in today’s fast-paced world. As the collection of abbreviations continues to expand, it is essential for individuals and organizations alike to stay informed and adapt to the ever-changing linguistic landscape.

What Are Abbreviations?

Abbreviation Definition

Both in formal and informal speech, we don’t always write the whole word or phrase and use a shortened form instead. For example, it’s common to come across an “etc.” or “i.e.” in an essay and an “OMG” or “FYI” in a text message you receive from a friend. All of these are abbreviations.

Even though it might seem that abbreviations are a rather modern phenomenon that exploded due to technology and text messages, they’ve actually been around for thousands of years. In fact, in ancient Greece and Rome, it was common to shorten words by their first letter. As for the English language, it’s been full of abbreviations from the very beginning. Beowulf, an Old English epic poem from some time around the tenth century, is only one example of works that had shortened forms of words in them.

Why Do We Use Abbreviations?

The reason why abbreviations have been popular hundreds of years ago and why they still remain so today is that they help us save space and time. Obviously, it takes a lot less effort to write SARS than it would if you were to write “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”, the whole phrase that it stands for. In addition, in the modern world, there sometimes is the need to fit as much information as possible into one message while having a limited amount of characters. For instance, Twitter doesn’t allow tweets to be longer than 280 characters. It’s natural to shorten all the words that can be shortened, to make sure that everything you want to say fits into a single tweet.

Abbreviations can take various forms, and there isn’t a rule that would strictly define how words can or can’t be shortened. One option is representing the word by its first letter or by the first few letters, e.g. v. for verb and Co. for company. Some abbreviations take the most important letters of the word, such as Ltd. that stands for limited, or Revd that stands for Reverend. A single word can also be shortened by taking only the first and the last letter, e.g. Dr. for DoctorRd. for road. It’s also common that first letters of the words in a phrase are used instead of a whole phrase. Examples are BTW for by the way and RSVP for répondez s’il vous plaît.

Many abbreviations appeared at the end of the 20th century when people started sending each other text messages. These are most commonly first letters of the words in a phrase, such as TMI that stands for too much information. Sometimes letters are replaced with numbers to make an abbreviation; thus, L8r stands for later.

Often quite a few questions arise when it comes to abbreviations. Do I use a full stop after the shortened version of the word? Do I use lowercase or uppercase letters? What do I do if I need a plural form? These are just some of those questions. However, just as it is with the majority of English grammar, practice makes perfect. If you keep using abbreviations in your writing, you soon will have no problems with them.

Common Abbreviations

NATO

NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an international military alliance that has its own set of standard abbreviations to facilitate clear communication among its members. Some common examples include:

  • ACO: Allied Command Operations
  • ACT: Allied Command Transformation
  • CAS: Close Air Support
  • MIA: Missing in Action
  • WIA: Wounded in Action

Company Names

In the business world, it is quite common for companies to use abbreviations for their names to save space and increase readability. Here are some well-known examples:

Abbreviation Company Name
IBM International Business Machines
3M Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
GE General Electric

Organizations

Various organizations, particularly those in the non-profit and governmental sectors, often use abbreviations to represent their names. This helps to reduce the length of their titles and make them more recognizable. Here are a few examples:

  • UN: United Nations
  • WHO: World Health Organization
  • EU: European Union
  • WTO: World Trade Organization
  • NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

By familiarizing oneself with these common abbreviations, it becomes easier to navigate the complex world of acronyms and abbreviations across different fields and industries.

Types of Abbreviations

Abbreviations are a shortened form of words or phrases, which can be achieved through various methods. This section covers two main types of abbreviations: acronyms and initialisms.

Acronyms

Acronyms are formed by combining the initial letters of each word in a longer name or phrase, creating a new word. Examples include NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). In acronyms, the initial letters are pronounced as a single word, making it easier to remember and refer to the original phrase.

Some well-known acronyms include:

  • UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
  • UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund)
  • AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

Initialisms

Initialisms, on the other hand, are a type of abbreviation where the initial letters of each word in a long phrase are taken and pronounced individually, not spoken as a word. For example, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and ATM (Automated Teller Machine) are initialisms because the individual letters are pronounced separately.

Here are some common initialisms:

  • CNN (Cable News Network)
  • DOB (Date of Birth)
  • BTW (By The Way)

Abbreviations, both acronyms and initialisms, are used extensively in various fields and industries to simplify communication and save time. The use of Latin abbreviations, such as “e.g.” (exempli gratia, meaning “for example”) and “i.e.” (id est, meaning “that is”), has become a common practice in writing as well. It’s essential to familiarize oneself with these abbreviations to ensure clear and concise communication.

Abbreviation Usage in Different Contexts

Time

Abbreviations are particularly useful when it comes to denoting time. For instance:

  • A.M. (ante meridiem) refers to the time before noon.
  • P.M. (post meridiem) denotes the time after noon.
  • B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini) are commonly used to indicate years before and after the birth of Jesus Christ, respectively.
Abbreviation Full Term
A.M. Ante Meridiem
P.M. Post Meridiem
B.C. Before Christ
A.D. Anno Domini

Space

In spatial contexts, abbreviations can simplify measurements or designate locations. For example:

  • Km denotes kilometers, used as a unit of distance.
  • N, S, E, and W represent cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West), often used in navigation.
Abbreviation Full Term
Km Kilometer
N North
S South
E East
W West

Countries

Abbreviations are also utilized for the names of countries, often in the form of two- or three-letter codes. These codes follow the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 and alpha-3 standards. Examples include:

  • US (United States)
  • AU (Australia)
  • CAN (Canada)
  • BE (Belgium)
  • JP (Japan)
Abbreviation Full Country Name
US United States
AU Australia
CAN Canada
BE Belgium
JP Japan

In summary, abbreviations play a significant role in conveying information efficiently in a variety of contexts, such as time, space, and countries. They help simplify and streamline communication, allowing for better understanding and clarity.

Abbreviation Forms

Omitting

Omitting refers to the practice of leaving out certain letters or parts of a word to create an abbreviation. This is commonly done to save space or make the writing process more efficient. For example, “Apt.” is an abbreviation for the word “apartment,” where several letters have been omitted in the middle of the word.

In some cases, abbreviations may also be formed by omitting syllables from a word. This is especially common in technical jargon and scientific terminology.

Shortened Form

A shortened form of a word is created when one or more syllables are removed, and the remaining letters still represent the original word. These forms are often used in informal writing, but they can also be found in more formal contexts. Examples of shortened forms include “info” for “information,” “approx.” for “approximately,” and “hrs” for “hours.” Some shortened forms are so commonly used that they have become universally recognized, such as “TV” for “television” and “U.S.” for “United States.”

Capital Letters

Capital letters are used in abbreviations to indicate the first letter of each word in a phrase or to represent an entire word. Acronyms are a common example of this type of abbreviation, where the initial letters of a phrase are combined to form a new word. For instance, “NASA” stands for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

In addition to acronyms, capital letters may also be used to create initialisms, which are abbreviations where the individual letters are pronounced separately, such as “URL” for “Uniform Resource Locator.”

When using capital letters in abbreviations, it is essential to follow proper guidelines and conventions to ensure clear and effective communication.

Punctuation and Plurals

When dealing with abbreviations, proper punctuation and plural formation are crucial to ensure clarity and maintain standard writing practices. In this section, we will discuss the appropriate ways to punctuate and form plurals of abbreviations.

Periods are often used at the end of abbreviations. For instance, “a.m.” (ante meridiem) and “p.m.” (post meridiem) both require periods after each letter. However, not all abbreviations require periods, such as acronyms where the initial letters form a pronounceable word. For example, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) does not need periods between the letters.

Creating plurals for abbreviations can be achieved by simply adding an “s” at the end. For example:

  • ATMs (Automated Teller Machines)
  • DVDs (Digital Versatile Discs)
  • ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers)

It is important to note that no apostrophe is needed when forming plurals of abbreviations.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this rule. When an abbreviation already ends in “s,” add another “s” or “es” to form the plural. For instance:

  • CMSs or CMSes (Content Management Systems)

Regarding possessive forms of abbreviations, an apostrophe followed by “s” can be used. For instance, “the CEO’s decision” is the correct possessive form and refers to the decision made by the Chief Executive Officer.

In summary, remember the following key points when working with abbreviations:

  • Use periods for certain abbreviations, but not for acronyms.
  • Add an “s” to form the plural of most abbreviations, without an apostrophe.
  • When an abbreviation ends in “s,” add another “s” or “es” to form the plural.
  • Use an apostrophe followed by “s” for possessive forms of abbreviations.

Abbreviations List

List of different types of abbreviations with meaning in English.

Business & Finance Abbreviations

Examples of common business abbreviations in English.

  • Assoc. = Association
  • Corp. = Corporation
  • Inc. = Incorporated
  • Ltd. = Limited
  • BKPR = Bookkeeper
  • LET = Leaving Early Today
  • FTE = Full-time Employee
  • OTP = On The Phone
  • WOM = Word of Mouth
  • IAM = In A Meeting
  • NIM = No Internal Message
  • PTE = Part-time Employee
  • NRN = No Reply Necessary
  • WIIFM = What’s In It For Me
  • WFH = Work From Home
  • HQ = Headquarters
  • LLC = Limited Liability Corp.

Marketing & Sales Acronyms

Examples of sales and marketing acronyms in English.

  • B2B = Business to Business
  • B2C = Business to Customer
  • BR = Bounce Rate
  • CMS = Content Management System
  • CPC = Cost Per Click
  • CTA = Call to Action
  • CTR = Click Through Rate
  • CR = Conversion Rate
  • DM = Direct Message
  • SEO = Search Engine Optimization
  • SM = Social Media
  • SWOT = Streng, Weekness, Opportunity, Threat
  • CX = Customer Experience
  • FB = Facebook
  • POS = Point of Sale
  • PV = Page Views
  • RTD = Real Time Data
  • SEM = Search Engine Marketing
  • SMM = Social Media Marketing
  • SMS = Short Message Service

Medical Abbreviations

  • a.c. = Before meals
  • a/g ratio = Albumin to globulin ratio.
  • b.i.d. = Twice daily
  • bld = Blood
  • BP = Blood Pressure
  • C/O = Complaint of
  • ETOH = Alcohol
  • ECT = Electro Conclusive Therapy
  • g = gram
  • GvHD = Graft vs. Host Disease
  • gtt = Drops
  • h.s. = At bedtime
  • HA = Headache
  • ICU = Intensive Care Unit
  • ITU = Intensive Therapy Unit
  • in vitro = In the laboratory
  • in vivo = In the body
  • IU = International Units
  • JT = Joint
  • LBP = Low Back Pain
  • mg = Milligrams
  • ml = Milliliters
  • M/H = Medical History
  • MVP = Mitral Valve Prolapse
  • N/V = Nausea or Vomiting
  • NCP = Nursing Care Plan
  • npo = Nothing by mouth
  • NSR = Normal sinus rhythm of the heart
  • O.D. = Right eye
  • O.S. = Left eye
  • O.U. = Both eyes
  • P = Pulse
  • p.o. = By mouth
  • p.r.n. = As needed
  • PD = Progressive disease
  • PT = Physical therapy
  • q.d. = Each day
  • q2h = Every 2 hours
  • qAM = Each morning
  • qhs = At each bedtime
  • qod = Every other day
  • qPM = Each evening
  • s/p = Status post
  • SOB = Shortness of Breath
  • T = Temperature
  • tab = Tablet
  • Wt = Weight

Title Abbreviations

  • P = President
  • VP = President
  • SVP = Senior Vice President
  • EVP = Executive Vice President
  • CMO = Chief Marketing Officer
  • CFO = Chief Financial Officer
  • CEO = Chief Executive Officer
  • PA = Personal Assistant
  • Dpt. = Department
  • Gov. = Government
  • Mgmt. = Management
  • Pol. = Politics
  • Capt. = Captain
  • Col. = Colonel
  • Dr. = Doctor
  • Gen. = General
  • Lt. = Lieutenant
  • MD = Medical Doctor
  • Mr. = Mister
  • Prof. = Professor
  • RN = Registered Nurse
  • St. = Saint
  • Sgt. = Sergeant
  • Sr. = Senior

Note-Taking/ Writing Abbreviations

Examples of common abbreviations for note taking.

  • Etc. = And more
  • E.g. = For example
  • I.e. = For example
  • W/= With
  • W/O = Without
  • B/c = Because
  • B/4 = Before
  • Ea. = Each
  • Fr. = From
  • S/t = Something
  • Gen. = Generally
  • E/o = Either/ or
  • Max = Maximum
  • Min = Minimum
  • Diff = Difference
  • Approx = Approximately
  • Cf = Compared to
  • V. = Very
  • Vs. = Against
  • K = thousand
  • Subj. = Subject
  • Int’l = International
  • <= Less than
  • >= Greater than
  • & = And
  • @ = At

Time Abbreviations

  • AM = Ante Meridiem (before noon)
  • PM = Post Meridiem (afternoon)
  • AD = After the Year 0
  • BC = Before the Year 0
  • hr = Hour
  • min = Minute
  • sec = Second

Postal Terms & Direction Terms

  • Apt. = Apartment
  • Ave. = Avenue
  • Ct. = Court
  • Dr. = Drive
  • Hwy. = Highway
  • Ln. = Lane
  • Mt. = Mountain/ Mount
  • Rd. = Road
  • St. = Street
  • Ste. = Suite

 

  • N = North
  • S = South
  • E = East
  • W = West

Measurement Abbreviations

  • Gal. = Gallon
  • Lb. = Pounds
  • Pt. = Pints
  • Qt. = Quarts
  • G = Gram
  • Kg = Kilogram
  • Cm = Centimeter
  • M = Meter
  • ft. = foot
  • in. = inch
  • mi. = mile
  • mph. = miles per hour
  • mg. = milligram
  • mm = milimeter
  • no. = number
  • oz = ounce
  • sq = square
  • vol. = volume

State Abbreviations

  • Calif. = California
  • Colo. = Colorado
  • D.C. = District of Columbia
  • Ga. = Georgia
  • Ind. = Indiana
  • Mich. = Michigan
  • Mont. = Montana
  • N.M. = New Mexico
  • N.J. = New Jersey
  • N.Y. = New York
  • S.C. = South Carolina

English Teaching Abbreviations

Examples of abbreviations for English language teaching.

  • BC:  British Council
  • BE: Business English
  • BVT:  Bilingual Vocational Training
  • CALI:  Computer Assisted Language Instruction
  • CALL:  Computer Assisted Language Learning
  • CanE:  Canadian English
  • EAP:  English for Academic Purposes
  • EFL: English as a Foreign Language
  • EGP: English for General Purposes
  • EIP: English as an International Language Programme
  • EL: English Learner
  • ELA: English Language Arts
  • ELD: English Language Development
  • ELT: English Language Teaching
  • ERIC: Educational Resources Information Center
  • ESL: English as a Second Language
  • ESLP: English as a Second Language Programme
  • ESOL: English for Speakers of Other Languages
  • IEP: Intensive English Programme (usually university programmes)
  • NEP: Non-English Proficient
  • NES: Non-English Speaking
  • NNEST: Non-Native English Speaking Teacher
  • OE: Old English
  • SAE: Standard American English
  • SAP: Student Assistance Program
  • SLL: Second Language Learner
  • TEFLA: Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults
  • TEIL: Teaching English as an International Language
  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TYLE: (Teaching) Young Learners English
  • VESL: Vocational English as a Second Language

Internet Acronyms & Text Abbreviations

Examples of text abbreviations and internet slang words.

  • SMH = Shaking my head
  • BRB = Be right back
  • IMO = In my opinion
  • CYA = Cover Your A** or See Ya
  • DIKY = Do I Know You?
  • IDK / IDKE = I Don’t Know / I Don’t Know Either
  • ILY = I Love You
  • HBU = How About You?
  • LMAO = Laughing My A** Off
  • LMK = Let Me Know
  • NVM = Nevermind
  • OFC = Of Course
  • PNL = Peace and Love
  • ROFL = Rolling on the Floor Laughing
  • SNMP = So Not My Problem
  • STFU = Shut the F*** Up
  • TAY = Thinking About You
  • TBH = To Be Honest
  • TTP = To the Point
  • QAP = Quick as Possible
  • YGTI = You Get the Idea
  • AMA = Ask Me Anything
  • DAE = Does Anyone Else?
  • ELI5 = Explain Like I’m 5
  • TIL = Today I Learned
  • FTFY = Fixed That For You
  • BAE = Babe or Before Anyone Else
  • Facepalm = Seriously?
  • HIFW = How I Feel/Felt When
  • MFW/MRW = My Face When / My Reaction When
  • ICYMI = In Case You Missed It
  • JSYK = Just So You Know
  • Lulz = Laughs
  • IRL = In Real Life
  • MIRL = Me in Real Life
  • PAW = Parents Are Watching
  • QFT = Quoted for Truth
  • TBT = Throwback Thursday
  • TL;DR = Too Long; Didn’t Read
  • YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary
  • YOLO = You Only Live Once
  • DOKY = Do I Know You?
  • Noob = Newbie
  • NSFW = Not Safe For Work

Common Abbreviations List | Infographics

Common AbbreviationsPin Common AbbreviationsPin Common AbbreviationsPin

Text Abbreviations List

FAQs on Abbreviations

What are abbreviations?

Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases, used for conciseness and ease of communication. They can take various forms, such as initials and acronyms.

What are the different types of abbreviations?

There are several types of abbreviations, including:

  • Initialisms: These are formed by using the first letter of each word, usually pronounced separately. For example, “FBI” for Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • Acronyms: Like initialisms, these are formed using the first letters of each word, but the letters are pronounced together like a new word, such as “NASA” for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
  • Shortened words: These are created by removing certain parts of a word, like “app” for “application.”
  • Contractions: Words that are shortened by combining two words, with an apostrophe indicating the omitted letters, such as “can’t” for “cannot.”
  • Symbols: Stand-ins for words or phrases, like using “&” for “and.”

How should abbreviations be used correctly?

When using an abbreviation for the first time, it is a good practice to provide the full form, unless the term is widely recognized and understood (e.g., USA, UK). Avoid using abbreviations at the beginning of a sentence in formal writing, and ensure consistency in using an abbreviation throughout a text.

Are there any exceptions in pronunciation of abbreviations?

Yes, some abbreviations have unique pronunciations. For example, “AM” (Ante Meridiem) and “PM” (Post Meridiem) are pronounced as they are spelled. This occurs when an abbreviation becomes more popular or familiar than the original term.

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12 thoughts on “Abbreviations: A Concise Guide to Understanding and Using Them”

  1. Didn’t see it but is there a search function for words? Would be great to see if an abbreviation exists for a word without having to scroll.

    Reply
  2. Hello! Would ASAP also be considere an abbreviation? I can’t find it here! BTW this is the best English webpage I’ve ever seen! Thank you 🙂

    Reply

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