Using Abbreviations

Are you still confused on the rules of using abbreviations? Here’s quick guide that you might find helpful.


Using Abbreviations

An abbreviation is a shortened written form of a word or a phrase that is used in place of the whole form. Usually, this shortened form is composed of letter or letters from the original, longer form. For example, you can abbreviate the word “abbreviation” itself. The accepted shortened form is either abbr., abbrv. or abbrev.

Not to be confused with contractions or acronyms, abbreviations have been used throughout human history. Today, there are some general rules that are followed when using abbreviations.


Using Abbreviations

  • If the original form was capitalized, the abbreviation should retail capitalization on its first letter. Example: Lev. – Leviticus
  • According to Hart’s Rules, in British English, use a full stop or a period when using abbreviations where only word endings are dropped. On the other hand, do not use a full stop or a period for contractions where the middle part of the word is dropped. For example: Dr – Doctor (here: D—-r) and Prof. – Professor (here: Prof—–)
  • American English usually includes a period, and in some cases it may be optional. Example: either US or U.S.
  • The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices in the US advises against the use of periods except for cardinal directions as part of a destination name. Examples: Northwest Blvd, W. Jefferson, PED XING
  • The AMA Manual of Style, a style guide used by many medical journals, does not use periods in abbreviations or acronyms. Hence, you will see eg, ie, et al, Dr, ICU and more. There are very few exceptions to this rule:
    • the use of “No.” as “number” to avoid confusion with the word “no”
    • Initials with person’s names such as George R. Smith
    • And when the person prefers “St.” as part of a their name, but not in city names. Hence: Emily R. St. Claire, St Louis, St Paul
  • When an abbreviation appears at the end of the sentence, use only one period.
  • To make abbreviations in plural forms:

    • Add a lower case “s” for: an abbreviation, a number, or a capital letter used as a noun. Examples: a team of AMs, the confusing 30s, mid your Bs and Vs
    • For abbreviations of symbols of units of measure, use the same form as the singular form to make it them plural. Examples: ! lb or 30 lbs, 1 min or 30 mins.
    • For abbreviations that have more than one full stop or period, place the “s” after the last one according to Hart’s Rules. Example: Ph.D.s
    • For other methods or styles, you can place the “s” may simply after the last letter. Hence: PhDs
    • Hart Rules also recommends the use of an apostrophe when letters or symbols are referred to as objects, or anywhere where clarity is required. Example: the dots in i’s
    • The apostrophe can be omitted if the abbreviations are italicized.
Still confused? Here’s more.
  • Abbreviate the following:
    • Titles before names: Mr., Mrs., Sen., Rep.
    • Titles after names: Sr., Jr., Ph.D., M.D.
    • Names of familiar institutions (NATO, FBI), countries (USA, UK), corporations (CBS, IBM), famous people (JFK, FDR) and familiar objects (TV, VCR)
    • Terms of mathematical units: 2 lbs, 5 kg
    • Long, common phrases: miles per hour – mph, intellectual quotient – IQ
    • Words with numbers dictating time and date:  AM, PM, BC, AD
    • Common Latin terms: et cetera – etc., exempli gratia – e.g.

Here’s what not to do when using abbreviations:

do not abbreviate words to simply save space. This is especially applicable in formal academic prose. For example, do not use “thru” for “through” or “nite” for “night”. The increased popularity of real time, text based communications such as social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), online games, chat rooms and mobile phone text messaging has given way to a new era of informal abbreviations and text language. Different groups of people use different text abbreviations. Websites such as Acronym Finder and may come in handy when using abbreviations online.


Get the most accurate language translation services from Language Direct and be assured that our linguists are using abbreviations accurately in both the target and source languages.

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