The purpose of all language is communication. For one idea to be transferred from one person and understood by another. While vocal speech using full sentences is the most popular form of communication, it isn’t the only way that we communicate. The English language has over 600,000 words, though many of these words are not used in regular communication.
As the English language has developed, we have created faster and more concise ways to communicate and get to the point quickly. English abbreviations are the result of that and are the result of shortened English words and phrases. There are 2 kinds of English Abbreviation used when shortening words and sentences.
- The Acronym which is an abbreviation when shortened that is read as a word. For example, UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
- Initialism is an abbreviation that is spelled out when shortened, like the letters of the alphabet. For example, F.B.I (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
As you can see from the length of the original names, Abbreviation is very useful. This contraction helps us remember long difficult texts and even when shortened, abridged words do not lose their meaning. So although they are often abstract, the abridged one word abbreviations are often preferred.
Imagine how much time you could save by using abbreviations when writing a dissertation about the United States of America (USA), for example?
We have all seen abbreviations in action with our names especially when you have a longer name. You probably find family and friends affectionately calling you by the first letter or just by your initials like TJ or KK. People have an obsession with abbreviating and finding new ways to shorten words sometimes it can be hard to keep up. It's almost like an abbreviation is a novelty, and the person who uses it feels a sense of pride over having come up with it (even though they are usually not very creative in the slightest!). When I noticed friends trying to shorten my 3 letter name of Ava to ‘Av’ I had to put my foot down otherwise before I know it I would just become known as ‘A’ or perhaps just with symbols.
All jokes aside Abbreviations are very useful in everyday life and especially in writing and modern informal communications. Such as emails, texting, online chat and social media. But they are also used in formal settings such as in the office, and you will even find it on official documents such as passports.
As a speaker of English as a second language, it can be hard enough to try to learn the language without having to know these abbreviated words too. But it is advantageous to learn how to abbreviate in English. Let’s take a look at some common abbreviations, how to spell them, what they spell out and which ones can be spoken or pronounced and which should be left to social media like many popular Instagrammers.
Formatting Rules for English Abbreviations
- Capitalization: When you are using any kind abbreviation in writing or correspondence you should always use capital letters. This is because readers will read words with lower case letters and may be confused, thinking it is a word. For example U.S (the United States) and us (a pronoun used to refer to the speaker and one or more other people). Often even if you make a mistake, people will be able to understand because of the context, but it is best practice to be clear and not make people guess.
- Etiquette: In formal writing when you are using the abbreviation for the first time you should assume it is not understood and add it in parenthesis. For example, if I wanted to write about the European Union (EU), I would introduce it in Parentheses before going on to write EU later on in the text. This is just a courtesy to ensure anyone reading understands what you are writing about. This courtesy is not extended to in formal writing however so if you don’t know you will just have to read this article or ask the writer.
- Full Stops: Often well-known acronyms do not have full stops in between each letter. For example, NASA and N.A.S.A are the same things, but NASA is used.
- Some Abbreviations are so familiar that only the acronym is used and the original word is actually forgotten. In this case, you never need to write out the full word as the full word would be what is not understood as opposed to the acronym. An example of this is AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Another perfect example of this is the fact that I have just found that out by researching for this article that AIDS and HIV were abbreviated words. If someone said to me I have Human Immunodeficiency Virus, I would probably tell them to take an aspirin but if they say I have HIV, I would understand the situation fully. There are many English abbreviations that are so ingrained in our language that the longer original form of the words have been somewhat decommissioned or no longer used in general communication.
- Spelling: the abbreviation should be a shorter version of the actual word and not a completely different word that has nothing to do with the original sentence or word. Creating unrelated words that are not referring to or derived from the source terminology is most like slang and not an English Abbreviation. Randomly doing this will create confusion. There are exceptions to this.
Title Abbreviations Lists
Titles are never written in the long form, and in all cases of formal and informal writing, the abbreviation is used.
- The usage of Mr is short for Mister
- Mrs is short for Mistress
- Ms is short for Miss
- Dr is short for Doctor
Are used even today in writing, they are handy and are never written in their original form.
- E.G. means Exempli Gratia, you use this when you want to add references to more information in an example, e.g. It is commonly attached to the end of a sentence to add context to the sentence.
- I.E. means Id Est, you use these words to replace the words ‘that is’regarding expanding on some information that you had mentioned. i.e. now you can see it in action.
- ETC. means Et Cetera, you use this to define and communicate a list of items, e.g. “please get me a few soft drinks, water, orange juice etc.”
- AM means Ante Meridiem, this is used in the morning before midday.
- PM means Post Meridiem, this is used for after midday.
- PS means Post Scriptum, this is used to add more to the bottom of a letter
- RIP means Requiescant In Pace, which means Rest In Peace and can be found on gravestones.
These may look unusual as they are not used in day to day writing but useful for reading historical writings:
- AD means Anno Domini used to communicate the year of the lord or after Christ, in written form, this looks like AD375
- BC means before Christ, it is written as 1BC
- means Circa, this is used to explain around or approximately e.g. she was born C.345BC
Just beware to not abbreviate Cheeky Nando's as CN (or cn) because that stands for China! (The lower case is that country's internet extension)
State Abbreviations for the USA
There are 50 states in the US but beware: some of the abbreviations you might run across are for cities. A few of their abbreviations which are used regularly are:
- NYC means New York City (not New York State)
- DFW represents the Texas megalopolis Dallas-Fort Worth, not the state of Texas
- NJ means New Jersey
- SC means South Carolina
On legal documentation, it is common practice to cite publications with Legal Abbreviations. While this may not be relevant to your life, it is a good demonstration of how ingrained abbreviations are within the English language.
- ART means Article
- EE means Employee
- ER Means Employer
- LLC Means Limited Liability Company
Anyone with children will put their hands up to admit googling 'why is my child...' or 'why won't my child...'. If you are one of these concerned mums or dads, then you will no doubt have come across websites like Mumsnet or Babycenter. On these sites intended to offer advice to new parents, there is usually a message board whereby frustrated or worried caregivers can vent or ask questions to others in their situations. But, as a new mum or dad, understanding the baby lingo can be a bit of a challenge!
Here are some of the abbreviations/acronyms commonly used in their huge communities (mainly sourced from BabyCenter):
- BC = birth control, or before children
- BF = breastfeed
- BFN = big fat negative (pregnancy test)
- BFP = big fat positive (pregnancy test)
- BLW = baby-led weaning
- BM = breast milk
- CD = cycle day
- CF = cervical fluid
- CIO = cry it out
- CM = cervical mucus
- CS or C/S = cesarean section
- DC = daycare, dear child
- DD = dear daughter
- DF = dear fiancee
- DH = dear husband
- DP = dear partner
- DS = dear son
- DSD = dear stepdaughter
- DSS = dear stepson
- DW = dear wife
- EBF = exclusively breastfeeding
- EDD = estimated due date, or expected date of delivery
- FF = formula feeding
- FTM = first time mom
- HPT = home pregnancy test
- IVF = in vitro fertilization
- L&D = labor and delivery
- LO = little one
- LP = luteal phase
- MC or M/C = miscarriage
- ML = maternity leave
- MM = mother's milk
- MS = morning sickness
- O = ovulation
- OH = other half
- PG = pregnant, or pregnancy
- POAS = pee on a stick (i.e. pregnancy test)
- SAHD = stay-at-home dad
- SAHM = stay-at-home mom
- SAHP = stay-at-home parent
- SD = sperm donor
- SO = significant other
- TMI = too much information
- TTC = trying to conceive
- US or U/S = ultrasound
- VBAC = vaginal birth after cesarean section
So if you are seeking the help of some fellow parents-to-be and see the following, would you have been able to distinguish what was being said before reading the above?
"OH and I are TTC so we took a POAS and got a BFN."
We didn't think so!
English Abbreviations of Everyday Life
- The months of the year can be written as – Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr… etc.
- The days of the week can follow a similar Structure – Mon, Tue, Wed… etc.
- UTC is the shortened version of Coordinated Universal Time. In Europe, we are familiar with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) however there are hundreds of related time zone abbreviations in use.
- UK (United Kingdom)
- UAE (United Arab Emirates)
- EU (European Union)
- CA (Canada)
- AU (Australia)
- CZ (Czech Republic)
- EE (Estonia)
- DE (Germany)
- HK (Hong Kong)
- PT (Portugal)
- CH (Switzerland)
As you can see from the above, not all country abbreviations are as predictable as using the first letters of the country (AU - Australia) or the first letters of each part that makes up the country (HK - Hong Kong). This is because the country codes are universal, so many of them are taken from their own language (i.e. DE - Deutschland rather than GE - Germany).
Airport Codes / Abbreviations
Once again a universal set of codes that have come mainly from abbreviations, airport country codes are commonly used, so much so that the frequent travellers among us probably know a lot of the places they visit for holidays or business by their three-letter code.
As an example, here are the top 10 UK airports and their short codes:
- LHR = London Heathrow
- LGW = London Gatwick
- MAN = Manchester
- STN = Stansted
- BHX = Birmingham International Airport
- GLA = Glasgow International
- EDI = Edinburgh
- LTN = London Luton
- BFS = Aldergrove International Airport, Belfast
- BRS = Bristol
- In. or " means Inches
- Ft. (Feet)
- Ibs (Pounds) <this one doesn’t make sense, but sometimes you will find irregular abbreviations. This is not omitted because it's essential to know that there are a few contractions that won't correspond with the normal rules.
- Cm (Centimeters)
- M (Meters)
- KG (Kilogram)
- DIY means Do It Yourself and commonly refers to improving your home by yourself.
- ETA means the Estimated time of arrival and is used on parcels or deliveries
- RSVP means Repondez S’il Vous Plait, It is used on invitations and is asking for the person to respond ASAP to inform if they will attend or not.
- St. Means Street
Social Media Messaging
Many will be familiar with these Network-Specific Acronyms, which seem to come naturally to us in this modern technological world:
- FB = Facebook
- IG = Instagram
- LI = LinkedIn
- YT = YouTube
Also, some abbreviations or acronyms are specific to one or two of the above networks. Although can be used across networks, here are a few that are mainly linked to Twitter:
- DM = Direct Message
- MT = Modified Tweet
- PM = Private message
- RT = Retweet
And now for the fun ones!
- LOL = Laughing Out Loud
- BRB = Be Right Back
- CUL = See You Later
- NP = No Problem
- TY = Thank You
- AFAIK = As Far As I Know
- AMA = Ask Me Anything
- BFF = Best Friends Forever
- BTW = By The Way
- FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out
- FYI = For Your Information
- GTG = Got To Go
- IDC = I Don't Care
- IDK = I Don't Know
- ILY = I Love You
- IMO = In My Opinion
- LMAO = Laughing My Ar*e Off
- NBD = No Big Deal
- OMW = On My Way
- ROFL = Rolling On The Floor Laughing
- TBH = To Be Honest
- TBT = Throw Back Thursday
- WTF = What The F*ck
- YOLO = You Only Live Once
- IIWII = It Is What It Is
Any Love Island fans will appreciate the final entry! Also, it can't just be me who pictures Peppa Pig every time she sees ROFL?
English Abbreviations in a Professional Context
- CV means curriculum vitae, this is your resume that you use to apply for jobs
- ASAP is indicating As Soon As Possible
- FYI means For Your Information
- B2B is Business to Business
- B2C is Business To Consumer
- CMGR is Community Manager
- CPS is Cost Per Click
- CPM is Cost Per Thousand
- CR is Conversion Rate
- KPI is Key Performance Indicator
- PV is Pageviews
- ROI is Return On Investment
- UGC is User Generated Content
- TOS is Terms Of Service
- T&Cs is Terms And Conditions
Furthermore, there are some terms that are specific to the tech industry and are as follows:
- API is Application Programming Interface
- ESP is Email Service Provider
- HTML is Hyper Text Markup Language
- ISP is Internet Service Provider
- SEO is Search Engine Optimisation
- UI is User Interface
- UX is User Experience
The English Learner may be confused with the irregular, abstract and serial abbreviation obsession in the English language. But once you learn the abridged version of the words, you too will find that you slowly become opposed to the usage of the longer length entries. Before long, you will be writing in English, and editing your writing entries including messaging on social media with abbreviations, Just like a local. Ready to start creating your own English Abbreviations from your most common words and English vocabulary? Good luck and CUL.
Why not take online English courses with a Super tutor?
Get information about ESOL classes on Superprof.