Abbreviations and Acronyms

Any abbreviated form of a word or phrase is an abbreviation. Acronyms are also a type of abbreviation that can be pronounced as a single word.

Abbreviations are used selectively in spoken conversations and in written English. In general, commonly used abbreviations such as measurements and titles are always abbreviated in written form. However, days and months are usually written out. Online, abbreviations and acronyms are most common in texting, chat rooms and texting.

In spoken English, we often use abbreviations in informal conversations. A good rule of thumb is to use abbreviations and abbreviations that you know others are familiar with, and avoid them if they are too specific.

For example, if you’re having a conversation with a business colleague, you might want to use abbreviations specific to your industry. However, using working abbreviations would be misguided when speaking with friends. Here’s a guide to some of the most common abbreviations.

Titles

One of the most common types of abbreviations is the abbreviated word. The first few letters of a word or key letters in the word are used for this type of abbreviation. Common abbreviations include titles used in everyday conversation, as well as military ranks:

  • Sir – sir
  • Mrs. – Mistress
  • Miss
  • Dr. – Doctor
  • Jr. – Junior
  • Senior – Senior
  • Capt. – Captain
  • Comdr. – Commandant
  • Col. – Colonel
  • Gene. – General
  • Hon. – the Honorable
  • Lieutenant – Lieutenant
  • Rev. – the reverend

Other common abbreviations include:

Months of the year

  • January – January
  • February – February
  • March – March
  • April – april
  • August – August
  • Sept. – september
  • October – october
  • Nov. – November
  • December – december

Days of the week

  • Mon. – Monday
  • Tues. – Tuesday
  • wed. – Wednesday
  • Thurs. – Thursday
  • Fri-Friday
  • Sat. – Saturday
  • Sun. – Sunday

Weight and volume

  • gal. – Gallon
  • pond
  • oz – ounce
  • pt – pint
  • qt – Quart
  • wt. – Weight
  • vol. – volume

Time

  • hour – hour
  • min – minute
  • sec – seconde

Length – US / UK

  • in. – inch
  • foot feet
  • mi – mile
  • yd – yard

Measures in statistics

  • kg – kilogram
  • km – kilometer
  • m – meter
  • mg – milligram
  • mm – millimeter

Initial letter abbreviations

Initial letter abbreviations take the first letter of each major word in a short sentence to form the abbreviation. Prepositions are usually omitted from the initial letter abbreviations. One of the most common initial letter abbreviations is USA – United States of America. Note how the preposition ‘of’ is left out of this abbreviation.

Other common initial letter abbreviations include:

Travel directions

  • N – North
  • S – South
  • E – East
  • W – West
  • NE – Northeast
  • NW – Northwest
  • SE – Southeast
  • SW – Southwest

Important Settings

  • BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation
  • EU – Europese Unie
  • IRS – Internal Revenue Service
  • NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fund
  • WHO – World Health Organization

Types of measurements

  • MPH – Miles per uur
  • RPM – revolutions per minute
  • Btu – British Thermal Units
  • F – Fahrenheit
  • C – Celsius

SMS, texting, chatting

Many abbreviations are used online and in our daily lives with smartphones, chat rooms, etc. Here are a few, but follow the links for a complete list in alphabetical order.

  • B4N – Goodbye for now
  • As soon as possible
  • POI – No problem
  • TIC – Tong in de wang

What are acronyms?

Acronyms are initial letter abbreviations that are pronounced as one word. To take the above examples, the BBC is NOT an abbreviation because it is pronounced as spelled: the B – B – C. However, NATO is an abbreviation because it is pronounced as one word. ASAP is another acronym, but ATM is not.

Tips for Using Abbreviations and Acronyms

  • Use abbreviations when texting by learning common SMS abbreviations
  • Use acronyms as a mnemonic to help you learn a wider variety of vocabulary. In other words, take a list of words you want to learn and memorize the first letters of each word you want to learn. For example: Primary colors: RBY– red, blue, yellow.
  • Use abbreviations when writing quick emails in a casual way.
  • Do not use abbreviations or when writing formal emails, reports or letters, except for common organization names
  • For more unusual acronyms, use the full name followed by the acronym in parentheses when using the acronym for the first time in written communications. For example: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is responsible for lending money to countries. As the world experiences more economic problems, the role of the IMF is often called into question.
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