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 Even the Oxford English Dictionary is not immune from assuming that Latin abbreviations have self-evident meanings. Anthony Grant, Quartz, "‘Quid pro quo’ is more legalese than Latin," 25 Nov. 2019 Dozens of people were arrested as clashes broke out nearby the university, including several who were seen detained outside a high-end hotel in the city’s tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui (often referred to by it’s abbreviation TST). Time Staff, Time, "Hong Kong Police Storm University Campus Occupied by Protesters as Courts Overturn Mask Ban," 18 Nov. 2019 Carr could deduce that because the words didn't line up perfectly with the individual abbreviations. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, CNN, "How the FBI tracked down 'the spy who couldn't spell'," 1 Nov. 2019 But some linguists point to how, in the early 19th century, humorous abbreviations were in vogue. Elly Van Gelderen, Quartz, "How “OK” became the most spoken word on the planet," 3 Sep. 2019 But some linguists point to how, in the early 19th century, humorous abbreviations were in vogue. Elly Van Gelderen, The Conversation, "Curious Kids: Why do we say ‘OK’?," 2 Sep. 2019 At the bottom of the list an abbreviation: R.I.P. Arriola, who was reportedly attending a community college, lived with his family in the apartment above the victim, Watanabe said. Teri Figueroa, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Mental competency in question for man accused of gunning down Oceanside neighbor," 13 Sep. 2019 Hope and Stoops had been joking about phrases and abbreviations that friends from high school would write in each other’s yearbooks. Anne Nickoloff, cleveland.com, "Cleveland’s Young Teazer premieres first-ever single ‘GLTS’," 30 Aug. 2019 Halloween, an abbreviation for All Hallows’ Eve, originated as a pagan festival celebrated by the Celts thousands of years ago. Cnn.com Wire Service, The Mercury News, "A petition to move Halloween to the last Saturday of October is picking up steam," 26 July 2019

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

5 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Abbreviation.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abbreviation. Accessed 15 December 2019.

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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

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