abbreviation

noun
ab·​bre·​vi·​a·​tion | \ ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən How to pronounce abbreviation (audio) \

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

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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 Why can’t people use the correct word instead of some abbreviation? Washington Post, "Hints From Heloise: Careless language," 26 Apr. 2021 In May and June, Lynn punctuated several tweets with the same abbreviation. NBC News, "Walmart, Amazon among donors to QAnon-promoting lawmaker," 22 Sep. 2020 The law enforcement organization’s correct abbreviation is ATF, not AFT. Emma Colton, Washington Examiner, "Biden repeatedly bungles 'ATF' title while unveiling gun control measures," 8 Apr. 2021 But like most of us, Kor Tor Mor — a colloquial abbreviation of Bangkok’s full Thai name, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon — has trudged forward. BostonGlobe.com, "3 places we supported this week," 6 Apr. 2021 State whose postal abbreviation might come as a surprise? Robyn Weintraub, The New Yorker, "The Crossword: Friday, April 2, 2021," 2 Apr. 2021 In May and June, Lynn punctuated several tweets with the same abbreviation. NBC News, "Walmart, Amazon among donors to QAnon-promoting lawmaker," 22 Sep. 2020 Other new hall-of-fame honorees include nWo, an abbreviation for wrestling group New World Order (Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman), The Bella Twins, Kane, Rob Van Dam, The British Bulldog, JBL. Bill Keveney, USA TODAY, "William Shatner joins WWE Hall of Fame: 'I should have gone into wrestling as Captain Kirk'," 30 Mar. 2021 In May and June, Lynn punctuated several tweets with the same abbreviation. NBC News, "Walmart, Amazon among donors to QAnon-promoting lawmaker," 22 Sep. 2020

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for abbreviation

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

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Statistics for abbreviation

Last Updated

9 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Abbreviation.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abbreviation. Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for abbreviation

abbreviation

noun
ab·​bre·​vi·​a·​tion | \ ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən How to pronounce abbreviation (audio) \

Kids Definition of abbreviation

: a shortened form of a word or phrase

Comments on abbreviation

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