Abbreviations

Take a moment to think about all the different types of shortened words you know in English. There are acronyms, initialisms, contractions, blends, and more. All of these language types fall under one umbrella term - abbreviations.

Abbreviations Abbreviations

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Table of contents

    In this article, we'll look at:

    • Abbreviations
    • Origins of abbreviations
    • Types of abbreviation
    • Abbreviation examples
    • Possible confusing points surrounding abbreviations

    Abbreviation Meaning

    In its simplest form, an abbreviation is a shortened word or phrase. There are five different types of abbreviations, which can all be differentiated based on the shortening process they go through. They are:

    Some examples of these abbreviations include:

    • LASER (acronym)
    • CD (initialism)
    • Lab (clipping)
    • Can't (contraction)
    • Motel (blend)

    Abbreviations Computers StudySmarterFig 1. There are many abbreviations used in relation to computer science to shorten long technical names or terms.

    Each type of abbreviation differs in its shortening process but all create a shortened form of a word or phrase.

    Origins of Abbreviations

    Where do abbreviations come from? As with any word or phrase shortening, abbreviations are created to allow quicker and more effective communication. When the meaning of an abbreviation is universally known (such as ASAP), it can be used in full confidence that the reader will understand what is meant (as soon as possible). In some circumstances, the abbreviation becomes so well-known that the full form can get forgotten or disregarded.

    Think of writing PS at the end of a letter or email. We all know that it means you've added a note at the end of your writing when you've already completed your letter, but does everyone know that it stands for the Latin term postscriptum, meaning written after?

    When the abbreviated form of a word or phrase becomes more well-known than the long version, it has fully integrated into the English language and is a good way to save time.

    Types of Abbreviation

    Let's have a look at the different types of abbreviations and their characteristics so you can see how to differentiate them from one another.

    Acronyms

    Acronyms are a type of abbreviation that shorten a longer phrase into a singular word.

    An acronym is a shortened phrase where the initial letter of each word is taken and put into a new word. This shortened form is then pronounced as a single word.

    Some examples of acronyms are:

    • RADAR - Radio Detection And Ranging

    • LASER - Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

    • NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    • PIN - Personal Identification Number

    • SONAR - Sound Navigation And Ranging

    It's not always the case that every word in a phrase has to be represented in an acronym - sometimes conjunctions or prepositions such as with, by, or and are left out so that the acronym can better form a single word.

    Initialisms

    An initialism is another form of shortened phrase where the initial letters of the words are used.

    Initialisms are similar to acronyms except they are pronounced letter by letter and not as a single word.

    Some examples of initialisms are:

    • FBI - Federal Bureau of Investigation

    • PR - Public Relations

    • PTSD - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    • CIA - Central Intelligence Agency

    • FAQ - Frequently Asked Question

    Acronyms and initialisms can often be confused as they go through a similar shortening process. In both, the initial letter of each word in the phrase is used to create either a word (in the case of acronyms like radar) or a list of letters (in the case of initialisms like CPU).

    Clippings

    A clipping can form either an abbreviated-type word (e.g., Mrs) or a well-known word that you may not know has been abbreviated (e.g., pub).

    A clipping (or clipped abbreviation) occurs when a word is shortened due to letters or syllables being removed.

    Some clippings have shorter spellings and pronunciations (photo for photograph), and some have shortened spellings but keep the original pronunciation (Mr. for mister).

    Some examples of clippings are:

    • Sat Nav - Satellite Navigation

    • Dr. - Doctor

    • lb - pounds

    • pub - public house

    • gym - gymnasium

    Abbreviations Scissors StudySmarterFig 2. Clipped abbreviations are created when letters or syllables are clipped out.

    Contractions

    A contraction occurs when two words are joined together by replacing a letter or group of letters with an apostrophe.

    Contractions are words formed by joining two or more words to create a shortened form. These shortened forms omit letters, which are represented by an apostrophe.

    Some examples of contractions are:

    • can't - can not

    • shan't - shall not

    • it's - it is

    • goodbye - God be with you

    • you've - you have

    Blends

    Like contractions, blend words are formed by joining two or more words.

    A blend word is created when two words with different meanings are joined to create a new word.

    Some examples of blends are:

    • docudrama - documentary drama
    • emoticon - emotion icon
    • motel - motor hotel
    • mansplaining - man explaining
    • workaholic - work alcoholic

    Blend words can also be referred to as portmanteau words.

    Abbreviation Examples

    Many abbreviations occur in specific fields, such as technology, medicine, and writing. We've already mentioned some examples, but let's have a look at a few more in specific fields.

    Abbreviations in technology

    Abbreviations are often used in technology to refer to the lexicon surrounding computers. Here are some examples:

    PC - Personal Computer

    CD - Compact Disc

    DVD - Digital Video Disc

    AV - Audio Visual

    WWW - World Wide Web

    ICT - Information and Communication Technology

    HTML - Hyper Text Markup Language

    DOS - Disc Operating System

    API - Application Program Interface

    CPU - Central Processing Unit

    These are all one type of abbreviation - initialisms.

    Can you think of any other abbreviations associated with technology?

    Abbreviations in texting

    One of the areas where you'll most often see abbreviations used in day-to-day life is instant messaging and texting. Here are some examples you'll likely be familiar with:

    OMG - Oh My God

    BRB - Be Right Back

    LOL - Laughing Out Loud

    TTYL - Talk To You Later

    DM - Direct Message

    ILY - I Love You

    JK - Just Kidding

    IDK - I Don't Know

    LMK - Let Me Know

    NVM - Never Mind

    Like with the abbreviations associated with technology, these texting abbreviations are mostly initialisms. An exception could be the abbreviation LOL which can be pronounced either letter by letter (ell - oh - ell) or as a singular word (lol), meaning it can be both an initialism and an acronym.

    Abbreviations - Gramograms

    Another type of abbreviation you may often see in text-speak is gramorgrams.

    A gramogram occurs when a word or phrase is phonetically similar to a letter, group of letters, or a number and can be written that way to represent the meaning.

    Some examples of gramorgrams are:

    • CUL8R (see you later)
    • 4C (foresee)
    • gr8 (great)
    • b4 (before)
    • R U OK? (are you okay?)
    • 2 (to / too)
    • g2g (got to go)
    • NME (enemy)
    • 4U2 (for you to/too)
    • IOU (I owe you)

    Gramograms can also be referred to as letteral words.

    Abbreviations Nokia brick StudySmarterFig 3. Texting was more time-consuming and costly on older mobile phones, so abbreviations were often used to use fewer characters per text.

    Abbreviations in text messaging occurred for a more specific reason than most other abbreviations. These were initially coined in the days of paying per character in a text, so people would try to make their messages as short as possible.

    Abbreviations for Titles

    Abbreviations are often used for titles when referring to people. Titles are most often clippings.

    Here are some abbreviations for titles:

    • Mr - mister
    • Mrs - missus
    • Prof - professor
    • Dr - doctor

    Abbreviations for Time

    Abbreviations can be used to refer to times of day, historical times, time periods, or times of the year.

    Some abbreviations for times are:

    • am - ante meridiem
    • pm - post meridiem
    • BC - Before Christ
    • AD - Anno Domini
    • BST - British Summer Time
    • DST - Daylight Saving Time
    • UTC - Universal Time Coordinated
    • GMT - Greenwich Mean Time

    Abbreviations for Places

    Most countries can be referred to by an abbreviated form.

    Some examples of abbreviations for counties are:

    • UK - United Kingdom
    • USA - United States of America
    • Fr - France
    • Nc - New Caledonia
    • Nz - New Zealand
    • Aus - Australia

    Some of these are initialisms and some are clippings - can you tell which are which?

    Abbreviations for Measurements

    Another area where abbreviations are used is in measurements. Some that you may have come across are:

    • cm - centimeters
    • m - meters
    • ml - milliliters
    • oz - ounces
    • g - grams
    • mm - millimeters

    Now, let's clear up some areas that may cause confusion regarding abbreviations:

    • Abbreviation synonyms
    • Abbreviations vs. acronyms

    Abbreviation Synonyms

    There aren't any specific synonyms for the term abbreviation, although the terms acronym and abbreviation are often confused.

    It's best to remember that the term abbreviation is actually a cover-all term used to refer to the five following word types:

    • acronyms

    • initialisms

    • clippings

    • contractions

    • blends

    Abbreviation vs. Acronym

    It's a common misconception that abbreviations and acronyms are different things. The truth is, acronyms are a type of abbreviation. The terms can sometimes be used interchangeably when referring to acronyms, however, abbreviations won't always be used to refer solely to acronyms.

    To prevent yourself from confusing the terms, remember the following:

    • All acronyms are a type of abbreviation

    • Not all abbreviations are acronyms

    • There are five types of abbreviations:

      • acronyms

      • initialisms

      • clippings

      • contractions

      • blends

    Abbreviation List

    Now that we've gone over all the different types of abbreviations, let's have a look at some examples for all of them.

    Abbreviations

    Initialisms (Alphabetic Abbreviations)

    Acronyms

    Clippings

    Contractions

    Blends

    HD - High DefinitionSCUBA - Self-Contained Underwater Breathing ApparatusSci-Fi - Science FictionDon't - do notBrunch - breakfast + lunch
    IT - Information TechnologyNATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisationft. - foot / feetCan't - can notSpork - spoon + fork
    ROFL - Rolling On the Floor LaughingASCII - American Standard Code for Information Interchangecm - centimetersI've - I have Ginormous - gigantic + enormous
    AFK - Away From KeyboardFOMO - Fear Of Missing Outsrsly - seriouslyit's - it isMoped - motor + pedal
    BTW - By The WayFLOTUS - First Lady Of The United Stateslab - laboratorygoodbye - God be with youCamcorder - camera + recorder
    UFO - Unidentified Flying ObjectDUFF - Designated Ugly Fat Friend ml - millilitersshan't - shall notBiopic - biographical + picture
    FYI - For Your InformationGOAT - Greatest Of All Timeteen - teenagerwon't - will notSportscast - sports + broadcast
    RIP - Rest In PeaceBOGOF - Buy One Get One Freetypo - typographical erroryou'd - you would / hadSmog - smoke + fog
    AM - Ante MeridianBAE - Before Anyone Elsevet - veterinarianhasn't - has notCockapoo - Cocker spaniel + poodle
    ER - Emergency RoomUNICEF - United Nations International Children's Emergency Fundlunch - luncheonshouldn't - should notVlog - video + blog

    Abbreviations - Key takeaways

    • The term abbreviation is a blanket term used to refer to initialisms, acronyms, clippings, contractions, and blends.
    • Initialisms are shortened forms of phrases where the first letter of each word is taken and pronounced individually.
      • E.g. UFO or PM
    • Acronyms are shortened forms of phrases where the first letter of each word is taken and pronounced as a single word.
      • E.g. LASER or PIN
    • Clippings are shortened words or phrases where some letters or syllables are removed.
      • E.g. gym or Sci-Fi
    • Contractions are created when two or more words are joined together and shortened by removing letters that are replaced with an apostrophe.
      • E.g. can't or you've
    • Blends are formed when two words are joined together to make one word with a combined meaning.
      • E.g. brunch or motel

    References

    1. A. Akmajian, R. Demers A. Farmer, R. Harnish. Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication.2001.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Abbreviations

    What are some popular abbreviations?

    Some abbreviations you may have come across are:

    PC, DVD, LOL, IDK, NASA, PIN, and RADAR.

    What are abbreviations?

    Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases where the meaning remains the same.

    What is an abbreviation and example?

    An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. An example of an abbreviation is PR, which uses the first letters of the phrase Personal Relations to create an abbreviated form.

    What are the 5 types of abbreviation?

    The term abbreviation can be used to refer to initialisms, acronyms, clippings, contractions, and blends.

    Why are abbreviations used?

    Abbreviations are used to create shortened forms of words or phrases that are quicker to type, text, say, or write. They can allow quicker and more efficient communication, especially when you consider texting on old mobile phones where you had to click through to the desired letter when typing.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of these is a type of shortened word or phrase?

    True or false: Abbreviation is the only term used to refer to shortened phrases.

    Which three types of word or phrase shortenings are most commonly referred to as abbreviations?

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