abbreviation

noun
ab·bre·vi·a·tion | \ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən \

Definition of abbreviation 

1 : a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole word or phrase "Amt" is an abbreviation for "amount." "USA" is an abbreviation of "United States of America."

2 : the act or result of abbreviating something : abridgment I know you would not be satisfied with an abbreviation of its contents, and you shall have the whole, save, perhaps, a few passages here and there of merely temporary interest to the writer …— Anne Brontë

Keep scrolling for more

What is an abbreviation?

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a written word or phrase. Abbreviations may be used to save space and time, to avoid repetition of long words and phrases, or simply to conform to conventional usage.

The styling of abbreviations is inconsistent and arbitrary and includes many possible variations. Some abbreviations are formed by omitting all but the first few letters of a word; such abbreviations usually end in a period: Oct. for October, univ. for university, and cont. for continued. Other abbreviations are formed by omitting letters from the middle of the word and usually also end in a period: govt. for government, Dr. for Doctor, and atty. for attorney. Abbreviations for the names of states in the U.S. are two capitalized letters, e.g., AR for Arkansas, ME for Maine, and TX for Texas.

Acronyms are abbreviations formed from the initial letters of an expanded phrase and usually do not include periods: PR for public relations, CEO for chief executive officer, and BTW for by the way. Some acronyms are pronounced as words: FEMA for Federal Emergency Management Agency and NATO for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although some people assert that all acronyms not pronounced as words, such as EPA for Environmental Protection Agency, be referred to as initialisms, the term acronym is in fact applied to both.

What's the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym?

Some people are unsure of whether to call ASAP or appt abbreviations or acronyms. Both abbreviation and acronym are used to refer to a shortened form, but an acronym is a shortened form of a phrase and is usually made up of the initial letters of that phrase. For example, NATO comes from “North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” and ASAP comes from “as soon as possible.” Abbreviations, on the other hand, can be shortened forms of words or phrases, and need not necessarily be made up of the initial letters of either. ASAP and appt (for appointment) are both considered abbreviations, but only ASAP is an acronym. Acronyms are a type of abbreviation.

Examples of abbreviation in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

In the world of banking, there is an abbreviation that is considered sacrosanct: K.Y.C., or Know Your Customer. Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times, "Citigroup Acted. Now, Two New Ideas on How Banks Can Limit Gun Sales.," 26 Mar. 2018 Officers are encouraged to note down rules on spelling abbreviations, common misspellings, and sentence lengths. Chris Stokel-walker, The Atlantic, "The Linguist Who Helps Police Catch Child Predators," 10 July 2018 The analytics tribe gives it a shot, with inscrutable formulas featuring exotic abbreviations. Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati.com, "Paul Daugherty: Forget numbers when deciding Billy Hamilton's value to the Cincinnati Reds," 7 July 2018 Text messages should be brief and easily understood and should not include any abbreviations, emojis or slang. Arielle Kass, ajc, "Fulton County rolls out 911 texting option in five cities," 6 July 2018 Tippett’s meaning seems clear despite 18th century phrasing and abbreviations, not to mention capitalization that looks erratic to 20th century eyes. James Barron, New York Times, "A Colonial Cemetery in a Park, and a Question: Does the City Own It?," 28 May 2018 There are stars on the collarbones to symbolize thievery, the Russian abbreviation for the Soviet Union (CCCP) on the left forearm, and the common Russki jailbird tattoo of St. Basil on the chest. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, "Decoding the Georgian and Russian Symbols at Vetements," 2 July 2018 Members of the charitable organization, known by the unwieldy abbreviation SMOTJ, regard themselves as spiritual descendants of the original Templars. Kristina Krug, Smithsonian, "Meet the Americans Following in the Footsteps of the Knights Templar," 28 June 2018 Magna has already been working on hardware for self-driving cars, including radar and lidar — an abbreviation for light detection and ranging — that help the vehicles see the world around them. Daisuke Wakabayashi, New York Times, "Lyft to Bring Driverless Car Tech to Broader Auto Industry," 14 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abbreviation.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of abbreviation

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for abbreviation

Middle English abbreviacioun "contraction, shortening," borrowed from Anglo-French abreviation, borrowed from Late Latin abbreviātiōn-, abbreviātiō, from abbreviāre "to abbreviate" + Latin -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of action nouns

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about abbreviation

Share abbreviation

Statistics for abbreviation

Last Updated

26 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for abbreviation

The first known use of abbreviation was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for abbreviation

abbreviation

noun
ab·bre·vi·a·tion | \ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən \

Kids Definition of abbreviation

: a shortened form of a word or phrase

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on abbreviation

What made you want to look up abbreviation? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

not any or not one

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!