Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases. They normally represent a whole sentence or phrase. Ready to learn them?

"Abbreviations" in the English Grammar

What Are Abbreviations?

'Abbreviation' comes from the verb 'abbreviate' which means 'to shorten.' Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases that are used to represent the full form of a word or phrase more easily or quickly.

Abbreviations: Uses

Abbreviations can be used to save time and space when writing or reading something. They may be used to avoid unnecessary repetition of long words and phrases. For example:

Oct. for October

TX for Texas

Vs. for versus

BA for Bachelor of Arts

Abbreviations: Types

Abbreviations can be categorized based on the way they are written. Here is the list of all types of abbreviations:

  1. Acronyms
  2. Initialism
  3. Contraction
  4. Shortening
  5. Syllabic abbreviations

1. Acronyms

Abbreviations that are made of the initial letters of the words of a phrase or a long word and are pronounced as a word, are called acronyms. They do not have a full stop (period). Here are a few examples:

NASANational Aeronautical and Space Administration

NATONorth Atlantic Treaty Organization

OPECOrganization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

PINpersonal identification number

laserlight amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

sonarsound navigation and ranging

2. Initialism

An initialism consists of the first letters of a group of words, pronounced individually, not as a word. Here are some examples:

FBIFederal Bureau of Investigation

FAQfrequently asked questions

USAUnited States of America

BABachelor of Arts

C.V. – curriculum vitae

Here, this is an initialism from a Latin phrase (curriculum vitae), which means 'course of life'.


It is important to know that abbreviations can overlap. For example, some people may pronounce ASAP or VAT letter by letter (initialism), while others may pronounce them as a word (acronym). Also, we may have a mix of acronyms and initialisms at the same time like JPEG or VLAN.

3. Contractions

Contractions are abbreviations in which we omit letters from the middle of a word. We always pronounce contractions as the original word. Contractions that contain an apostrophe are not usually categorized as abbreviations. Take a look at some examples:

Asst. – Assistant

Mr. – Mister

Jr. – Junior

hr. – hour

yr. – year


Ms. is not a contraction, although it seems like one. It is the combination of Mr. and Mrs. and was created as a neutral alternative that does no show a woman's marital status.

4. Shortening

Shortening happens when we abbreviate a word by keeping the first few letters or the first syllable. The pronunciation of the shortened form is the same as the original word. We have two different types of shortening:

  • Short forms that are treated as words : This type of shortening can be used both in writing and speaking.

ad – advertisement

app – application

min – minute/minimum

  • Short forms that are not treated as words: This type is only used in writing. But when we say or read them, we use the full form of the word.

Feb. – February

In this example, we write 'Feb' but we say February.

Sat. – Saturday

etc. – et cetera

Here, It is translated from Latin and it means "and the rest".

et al. – et alii or et aliae

Here, It is translated from Latin which means "and others".

5. Syllabic Abbreviations

A syllabic abbreviation is an abbreviation formed from the initial syllables of multiple words and is pronounced as a word. Here are some examples:

Interpol (International Police)

Comintern (Communist International)

Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite)


The months and days of the week should only be shortened when they are part of a full date or when space is limited. For example:

Sat. Dec. 11, 1999

Grammatical Notion

Abbreviation is one of the word formation processes in English. As with any other existing words, abbreviations can have different parts of speech. So understanding this notion will help us understand abbreviations better. All of them are mentioned below with examples:

  • As a noun or noun modifier: Most abbreviations function as nouns and are recognized as such. If the term being abbreviated is a proper noun, the abbreviation will also be a proper noun. If an abbreviation modifies another noun, it will function as a noun modifier.

Radar is one of the most important inventions of all time.

As you can see, 'radar' (an acronym) was used so widely that it became a common noun.

NATO's foreign policy has been changed recently.

Here, 'NATO' (an acronym) is a proper noun.

Do you have all those pictures on your DVD?

As you can see, The part of speech of 'DVD' (an initialism) is noun which is commonly used.

The US population has increased a lot through these years.

As you can see, US (an initialism) is modifying the noun ' population'. Therefore, it is a noun modifier.

The NASA control room was damaged.

Here, 'NASA' is a noun modifier.

Can you send me the jpeg file of this photo?

  • As an adverb: Some abbreviations may function as adverbs (mostly Latin ones). To recognize them, you must pay attention to their original phrase.

The exams' results are expected around 1 p.m.

Here, 'p.m.' (an initialism) means 'after midday' which is translated from Latin 'post meridiem'.

They were asked to describe their feelings (i.e., their moods, perceptions, and emotions) on the paper.

Here, 'i.e.' (an initialism) means 'that is' which is translated from Latin 'id est'.

All students should bring paper, pencils, scissors, etc.

  • As a preposition: There are a few of abbreviations (mostly Latin) which function as prepositions.

Tomorrow's game is France vs. Brazil.

Here, 'vs.' is a Latin abbreviation (versus) that means 'against'.


Abbreviations can be used without knowing that they have component meanings. Abbreviations such as ATM (automatic teller machine) and PIN (personal identification number) are regularly used with one of their elements repeated. For example:

She usually forgets her PIN number when she goes to the ATM machine.

Dr. is an example of contraction.


The plural form of an abbreviation is made by adding '-s'. Do not use an apostrophe (-'s). If you use -'s the reader will not know if it is for pluralization or possession. This rule applies to abbreviations with or without periods. Here are some examples:

There will be many more NGOs/ N.G.O.s until November.

As you can see, we cannot put a period after '-s'.

There are at least two ATMs in this street.


While it is generally recommended to avoid using apostrophes to form plurals, in some cases it may be necessary to help the reader distinguish between the singular and plural forms of the abbreviation. For example:

The coastguard did not receive any S.O.S.'s


Remember that SI units do not have separate plural forms. Therefore, do not add '-s' at the end of these units. For example:

10 kg Not 10 kgs


Some rules must be observed when capitalizing abbreviations that mostly depend on your style of writing. To understand them in detail, take a look at the list below:

  • When the full form is in capital letters (proper nouns), the abbreviation is written in also capital letters:

USAUnited States of America

EUEuropean Union

UNESCOUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

In some styles of writing acronyms, you can capitalize only the first letter 'Unesco'.

FAQ or faqfrequently asked questions

As you can see, when the full form is not a proper noun, it would be a matter of choice and both forms are acceptable.

  • All acronyms that become words of their own right are written in lowercase:

scuba – self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.

lidar – light detection and ranging.

radar – radio detection and ranging.

  • Social or official contractions and contractions that are proper nouns start with a capital letter. Other contractions are written in lowercase:

Dr. ( Doctor)

Mon. (Monday)

hr. (hour)

yr. (year)

  • Generally, Latin abbreviations are written in lowercase:




et al.

Here, we do not place a period after 'et'.

  • Abbreviations of SI units are usually lowercased unless named after people:

km (kilometer)

K (kelvin)

As you can see, the letter is capital because it was named after 'William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin'.


Do not capitalize the full form of an abbreviation unless it is a proper noun. For example:

UFO – unidentified flying object Not Unidentified Flying Object


There are no strict rules on where to use periods. It depends on the style of writing you have chosen. However, some of these rules are so common that they usually remain unchanged. Take a look at the list below and the examples:

  • Generally, we do not use periods in acronyms or other abbreviations with more than one capital letter:





  • Periods are always used in abbreviations with lowercased letters (specifically Latin abbreviations):




  • Periods are generally used when initializing people's name:

J. K. Rowling

J. F. Kennedy

Here, if you want to write 'JFK', then you are not allowed to use periods.

  • Periods are not used when abbreviating SI units:

5 ml

100 kg

17 km

  • Use a period after contractions or other short forms:

Mr. for Mister

Jr. for Junior

Jan. for January

Sen. for Senator


Social titles and professional titles are commonly abbreviated in English. In American English title abbreviations are always followed by a period, however, in British English they are not followed by a period. Here are a few examples.

Mr. Johns is the manager of the Hotel. → American English

Mr Johns is the manager of the Hotel. → British English


When US is used as a noun modifier, use periods, but not when it is used as a noun and refers to the country. For example:

The U.S. government has a key role in the negotiations.

The US is one of the most powerful countries in the world.

How To Use Abbreviations in Writing?

We have some rules for using abbreviations in English writing. Take a look at the list below:

  1. Use abbreviations only if they appear three times or more in your paper.
  2. Do not use abbreviations in headings, table titles, figure caption and reference list (except for some Latin abbreviations).
  3. Any phrase that can be abbreviated should first be spelled out in full and then abbreviated in parentheses. After that, only use the abbreviation.


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