Abbreviations are shortened forms of normal words. You can use abbreviations if you're trying to make your sentences easier to read or in place of longer, cumbersome words.
In this article, we'll talk about some common ways abbreviations are used.
Abbreviations are common ways to shorten long words, phrases, and proper nouns (not to be confused with common nouns. The key is to differentiate between formal and informal writing, and to understand when it's appropriate to use abbreviations for each.
For more formal writing, always write out the initial word, phrase, or proper noun and show the abbreviation in parentheses. For example:
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Some abbreviations have become words that are part of the modern day vernacular like "scuba" which stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus and "laser" which stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. (Are either of those news to you?)
Abbreviations for Titles and Degrees
Some of the most common ways abbreviations occur in the English language are in titles. Words like doctor, mister, and missus are often abbreviated to Dr., Mr., and Mrs., respectively.
Here are some other common title abbreviations:
- Miss = Ms.
- Senior = Sr.
- Junior = Jr.
College degrees are also often abbreviated. For instance, MBA is an abbreviation for Master of Business Administration.
Here are other common abbreviations:
- Bachelor of Science = B.S.
- Bachelor of Art = B.A.
- Master of Science = M.S.
- Doctor of Philosophy = Ph.D.
There are a number of Latin abbreviations that are common in English writing. Here are the most common:
- e.g. stands for exempli gratia and means "for example"
- i.e. stands for id est and means "that is"
- etc. stands for et cetera and means "and so forth"
- a.m. stands for ante meridian and means "before noon"
- p.m. stands for post meridian and means "after noon"
Other Common Abbreviations
Here are some other common abbreviations:
Jan., Feb., Mar., Apr., Jun., Jul., Aug., Sep., Oct., Nov., Dec. ("May" is only three letters long, so is not abbreviated.)
Mon., Tues., Wed., Thurs., Fri., Sat., Sun.
U.S. (United States), U.K. (United Kingdom), E.U. (European Union), U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates)
mm. (millimeters), cm. (centimeters), m. (meters)
mg. (milligram), g. (gram), kg. (kilogram), lbs. (pounds)
Note: You will sometimes see abbreviations without the full stops. This is a stylistic choice.
Difference between acronyms and initialisms
An acronym is a series of initial letters for a word or phrase. Acronyms are pronounced as a single word, like NASA, IKEA, or radar (Radio Detection and Ranging).
Initialisms are also a series of initial letters, but the letters are pronounced individually instead of as a single word. For example, the NFL (National Football League) is pronounced en-eff-ell.
Understanding the difference between these two abbreviations will help you decide what indefinite article to use. If you’re referring to a player in the NFL, you would write, "an NFL player" because the beginning sound of the initialism is a vowel.