ab·​bre·​vi·​a·​tion ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən How to pronounce abbreviation (audio)
: 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."
: 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.

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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.

Examples of abbreviation in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The party's youth wing, Young Alternative for Germany (known via the German abbreviation JA), has members as young as 14. Mithil Aggarwal, NBC News, 2 Apr. 2024 Freed-Hardman 86, Grace 81 The Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) Lions took the floor for warmups Monday sporting black T-shirts emblazoned with a bright red heart between the abbreviations FHU and KC. Randy Covitz, Kansas City Star, 26 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for abbreviation 

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

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

Dictionary Entries Near abbreviation

Cite this Entry

“Abbreviation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


ab·​bre·​vi·​a·​tion ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən How to pronounce abbreviation (audio)
: the act or result of abbreviating : abridgment
: a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole

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