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.
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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.
Recent Examples on the WebSee the stylebook’s entry for abbreviations and acronyms.—WSJ, 27 Nov. 2023 The abbreviation is used in relation to a statement, image, video or content, alluding to an inside joke or reference for a certain group, such as a fandom.—Olivia Munson, USA TODAY, 9 Sep. 2023 The abbreviation is believed to have come about in the U.S. in the 1940s with the rise of diners, where waitstaff often used shorthand to quickly convey orders to the kitchen.—Farideh Sadeghin, Saveur, 14 Sep. 2023 The acronym remained the same throughout the band’s history, though the abbreviation represented multiple names, including God in the Schizoid Mind, Guerrilla Incendiary Sabotage Mutineer, General Imperialism Social Murder, Gnostic Idiosyncrasy Sonic Militant, and Guy Individual Social Mean.—Nina Corcoran, Pitchfork, 2 Sep. 2023 The collective’s name is taken from the abbreviation of the Latin phrase Alis volat propriis.—Michael Alberty | , oregonlive, 2 Sep. 2023 Western mathematical texts over the next several centuries still used a variety of words, abbreviations and letters to represent the unknown.—Peter Schumer, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Aug. 2023 Don’t use abbreviations and change uncommon titles to those more widely used to help matching systems, ZipRecruiter recommends.—Danielle Abril, Washington Post, 27 July 2023 New abbreviations, slang and acronyms seemingly pop up online every day.—Olivia Munson, USA TODAY, 24 June 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'abbreviation.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
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