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Abbreviations – definition

abbreviations in English Abbreviations are letters or shortened words which are used instead of the full word.

Abbreviation Full expression Latin term
e.g. for example exempli gratia
i.e. that is id est
N.B. please note nota bene
Mr Mister
US United States


redbtn Abbreviations are used to save space – or to avoid repeating common terms.

redbtn They are often used in dictionaries, encyclopedias, and bibliographies.

redbtn Some organisations abbreviate their titles to the initial capital letters of their names.

redbtn Abbreviations are very useful when taking notes.

redbtn Many traditional abbreviations are shortened forms of words from Latin.

redbtn NB! Don’t use abbreviations in formal writing. Write out the word(s) in full.

redbtn Notice that a full stop is placed after an abbreviation, but not when the full word is used. Sometimes the full stop may be omitted in order to avoid double punctuation.

redbtn You should never begin a sentence with an abbreviation. Either spell out the word, or re-arrange the words in the sentence.

redbtn Companies and organisations often drop the full stops from their abbreviated titles.

ICI – Imperial Chemicals Industry
BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation
WHO – World Health Organisation

redbtn Some abbreviations are spoken as if they were complete words: for instance, NATO (‘NayTow’).

redbtn Others are spelled out. For instance VIP [very important person] is usually spoken as three separate letters – “Vee-Eye-Pea”.

redbtn Abbreviations are very useful when taking notes, but you should not use them in the main text of any formal writing.

redbtn If you wish to use any of these expressions, they should be written out in full. That is, don’t use e.g., but write out for example.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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2 Responses to “Abbreviations”

  1. Phillip Martin says:

    Do your programs incorporate a facility permitting you to receive feedback from users of your *.pdf texts? I did not like your prohibition against beginning a sentence with an abbreviation. The abbreviation “Ibid.” is often used in scholarly notes to begin a note (to be sure, the first–or only–element of the note may be only a sentence fragment (and highly formulaic at that). I recently read a very well-written book by an British scholar who consistently omitted the period after “Ibid”. Would you expect the U.K. publisher of scholarly books to correct that omission as a standard copy editing function?
    I expect to be purchasing several of your titles in order to recommend them with appropriate caveats to visitors from abroad (usually Asian nationals) who are studying in the U.S. and trying to improve their English language skills. I have valued your editorial sagacity for many years.
    With best regards. P. Martin / Gainesville Florida

  2. Roy Johnson says:

    Many thanks for your comment Phillip.

    1. The ‘prohibition’ against starting a sentence with an abbreviation is merely a style convention. It just doesn’t LOOK good.

    2. If you think about it, where ‘ibid’ is used, it is preceded by a footnote (or endnote) NUMBER.

    3. It’s true that traditionally ‘ibid.’ would end in a full stop to denote an abbreviation, but this is gradually falling out of practice (at least here in the UK).

    4. Omitting the full stop after abbreviations also helps to avoid double punctuation.

    Thanks for your interest in these matters.

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