Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Initialisms
Inquire: Short and Sweet
Abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms are shortened forms of longer or multiple words. They are used in writing as an effective means of saving space and delivering information more succinctly. In this lesson, we will look at the rules and guidelines surrounding abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms.
How do we, and should we, use abbreviations in our writing?
Watch: A Little Less, But Just As Much
Read: Using Abbreviations
Abbreviations are shortened forms of longer words or phrases. You have probably been using abbreviations all your life without much thought. Most often, an abbreviation will be composed by combining the first letter of the word and at least one subsequent letter. Keep in mind, however, that there are exceptions. Sometimes, abbreviations include letters not found in the original word.
We use abbreviations to reference individuals.
Doctor Hilarius = Dr. Hilarius
Sergeant Pepper = Sgt. Pepper
We also use abbreviations when using street names.
10086 Sunset Boulevard = 10086 Sunset Blvd.
124 Conch Street = 124 Conch St.
Some abbreviations are found in measurements.
twelve ounces = 12 oz.
five pounds = 5 lb.
Another form of abbreviation is known as clipping or truncation. This type of abbreviation occurs when you remove one or more syllable(s) from a word.
dormitory = dorm
hamburger = burger
While most forms of clipping maintain the same spelling of the remaining letters, there are exceptions.
bicycle = bike
refrigerator = fridge
Another way to shorten a phrase is to replace it with an acronym. An acronym is created by taking the first (and sometimes second) letters of each word of a phrase and using them to compose a single, pronounceable word.
self-contained underwater breathing apparatus = scuba
radio detection and ranging = radar
Acronyms are often used as shorthand for organization or business names. Sometimes, the original name will be used interchangeably with the acronym, but at times, it is but a distant memory.
Screen Actors Guild = SAG
Government Employees Insurance Company = GEICO
Initialisms are shortened versions of words or phrases, and while similar to acronyms, are made up of the first letter of each word. However, the two differ in that, when put together, initialisms are pronounced by speaking each individual letter as opposed to a single word.
You’ll often see initialisms used for countries.
Union of Soviet Socialists Republics
Initials are also used for companies.
Consumer Value Stores
United Parcel Service
Several everyday items are referred to by their initials.
Automatic Teller Machine
With individuals, initialisms are used to shorten people’s names. You may have been required to “Initial Here” on various forms.
Albert Benson Cartwright (A.B.C.)
Norma Oswald Proctor (N.O.P.)
Some individuals may make the stylistic choice to reference themselves using an initial in place of one of their names.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Kathryn Dawn Lang
K.D. Lang (usually stylized as k.d. lang)
It’s not even unheard of to use made-up initials.
J.K. Rowling (Rowling has no middle name, but added the K for aesthetics.)
Period or No Period
Periods are used at the ends of abbreviations.
Dr., Mrs., St., Blvd., etc.
If a sentence ends with an abbreviation, do not add a second period (e.g., We arrived at the office of Susan Jones, M.D..)
Although acronyms such as scuba and radar are abbreviations, we do not place periods between the letters. This is because acronyms, while abbreviations, are pronounced as words. For abbreviations or initialisms that are pronounced by speaking the letters individually, such as FBI, NAACP, U.S.A, or U.N.I.C.E.F., you may or may not need periods between the letters.
Reflect: Periods and Initials
Expand: Further Use of Abbreviations
Clippings — the form of abbreviation that occurs by removing an entire syllable from a word — can also be used with proper nouns. More specifically, clipping is a common method to form nicknames.
Samantha = Sam
Robert = Rob
As with clipping of common nouns, on occasion, the clipped word will have a slightly altered spelling.
Thomas = Tom
Abigail = Abby
Capitalization of Acronyms
If the acronym has entered the common lexicon — to the degree that it’s no longer even thought of as an acronym — then it will be lowercase.
If the acronym is used for an organization, it will be capitalized.
To reiterate, the guidelines for capitalization of acronyms are ambiguous.
Additional Resources and Readings
An overview on abbreviations
Further guidelines on abbreviations and acronyms
A thorough introduction to abbreviations with plenty of examples and useful lists
- abbreviationa shortened form of longer words or phrases
- acronyman abbreviation created by taking the first letters of each word of a phrase and using them to compose a single, pronounceable word
- initialisma shortened version of a word or phrase made up of the first letter of each word. Unlike acronyms, initialisms are pronounced by speaking each individual letter as opposed to a single word
License and Citations
Authored and curated by Oliver Shelton for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA
|Divers, Scuba Divers||Joakant||Pixabay||CC 0|
|F Scott Fitzgerald||The World’s Work||Wikimedia||Public Domain|
|Beatles Sgt. Pepper 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe unboxing||Rob DiCaterino||Flickr||CC BY 2.0|
|YOLO Sparklers||Kanielse||Pixabay||CC 0|
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- Question 1 of 3
When abbreviating a word by clipping, the remaining letters must stay the same.CorrectIncorrect
- Question 2 of 3
Acronyms must always be written in all uppercase letters.CorrectIncorrect
- Question 3 of 3
Whether to use periods in initialisms is often a matter of personal style.CorrectIncorrect