Abbreviations: Acronyms, Initialisms, Contractions, Apocopation

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Abbreviation is the general concept of shortening something, eiter in spoken, but usually in written form.

Abbreviated forms may or may not syntactically act differently, athough they cognitively

Initialisms and acronyms

Initialisms (a.k.a. alphabetisms) and acronyms are based on initial letters of words (or syllables, in syllabic writing systems) and pronounced based on this new form.

Initialisms include 'NSA' and 'FYI', are pronounced as the component letters.

Acronyms make enough syllabic sense to be pronounced as if they were words, e.g. NATO.

Acronyms are more easily considered words than abbreviations. In one of the best known cases, laser quickly become so common a term that it is now rare to see it as LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). Similar for radar.[1]

Note also that:

  • the term acronym is often used to refer to both acronyms and initialisms
  • some things may qualify as both initialism and acronym
  • ...and there are some mixed cases, such as in JPEG and MS-DOS. This has no name, so are usually grouped under acronyms.


Contractions reduce words or phrases in size, often joining them for convenience into what can (morphologically) be seen as a new word, while leaving meaning and often pronunication similar or at least predictable.

Contraction is often applied to shorten common word combinations, and is often written with an apostrophe to indicate where letters were omitted.

Perhaps the most common cases in English are shortened pronunciation of adjacent words such as in aren't and other common pronoun-verb combinations.

In french, it is regularly done to keep a flowing sound (see also elision), e.g. in the omission of a vowel in C'est l'hotel (while c'est is fairly comparable to the english pronoun-verb cases)

Visual resemblance to the original is sometimes paid attention to, in particular in more abstract contractions such as e-commerce.

Recently, the meaning of contractions has widened to include omission of letters from a single word (cf. elision), and the lexicalization (acceptance) of such words.

See also:


The practice of apocopation takes something away from the end of a word (e.g. mathematics → math), yielding an apocope.

Comparable concepts include aphaeresis, which removes the beginning of a word (e.g. telephone → phone), and syncopation, which removes something from the middle.

Syncopations can include contractions, silent syllables (usually when unstressed) often for rhythm, omission for ease of pronunciation (see also elision), poetic syllable count, or such.


Other abbreviations include:

  • Titles and honorifics, such as
Dr. (for doctor)
Dres. (for Latin doctores)
Mr., Mrs., etc.

  • Shortening single words, often with a single period to mark this, like:
vs. (Latin versus, meaning "against"),
cf. (Latin 'confer' / 'conferatur', meaning "compare to")
viz. (Latin 'videlicet', meaning "it may be seen", but also "that is to say," "namely," or "to wit"
(Also frequently seen used without period)
Compare with i.e.
ca. or c. (Latin 'circa', meaning "approximately"
kg for kilogram,
in. for inch,
pp. meaning 'pages', e.g. as "pp. 334-341" (seems more of a convention than anything else)

i.e. (Latin 'id est', roughtly "that is (to say)" / "namely" / "in other words", sometimes "in this case"),
e.g. (Latin 'exempli gratia', meaning "for example" or "for the sake of example"
sometimes explained as 'example given' as a mnemonic
style guides tend to dictate a comma directly after these, although many people don't use it.
N.B. (Latin 'nota bene', meaning "note well" in the take heed sort of sense),
P.S. (Latin 'post scriptum', meaning "written after", used for afterthoughts on a letter)
B.C. and A.D., 'Before Christ' and 'Anno Domini.'
AM and PM, (Latin 'ante meridiem' and 'post meridiem', meaning "before noon" and "after noon")
et al. (Latin et alii / et alia / et alios, meaning "and others" in a few grammatical cases, used in citations of articles. The short form means you don't need to know latin :)
Note: et is the complete word, meaning 'and', so "et. al." is incorrect
etc. (Latin 'et cetera', roughly "and so forth", "and other things")

  • Versus is a bit of a special case. Style manuals state that versus should often be written fully, because there is enough variation in use that meaningful specific use is lost on almost everyone. For those who care:
vs. is/was often used in listings such as sports results, while
v. is used in law.
versus is therefore the generic one

(There also exists an unrelated v.s., 'vide supra', "see earlier.")


  • phrase shortening is rather similar to initialisms, which themselves focus on noun phrases. (is there a more specific difference, though?(verify))
  • style and period placement can be looser and vary for some of these (e.g. BC, AD, AM, PM)
  • viz. and i.e. are similar, see e.g. [2]

See also