Understanding the ABCs of Abbreviating

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Abbreviating has become common in both written and spoken English. These shortened forms of words and phrases are accepted as effective communication in both formal and informal situations.   “Abbreviation” is a generic term used for shortening our words.  But there are several specific types used in day to day writing and speaking.  The best way to remember the types, is to remember your A, B, Cs.

Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases that are used in place of whole words.  They are only evident in their written form as they are pronounced by saying the whole original word.

Ave. = Avenue Jr. = Junior
Mr. = Mister Inc. = Incorporated
AZ. = Arizona Dec. = December

Acronyms are pronounceable words created by combining the first letters of the words in phrases.  Many acronyms are so frequently used that they are now considered words in their own right.

ZIP Code = Zone Improvement Plan code

NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Scuba = Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus

AIDS = Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

OPEC = Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

Brevity Codes (sometimes called Initializations) are a combinations of letters, pronounced letter by letter, used to shorten phrases. They are most commonly used in amateur radio, maritime, aviation and military communications.  The codes are designed to convey complex information with a few words or codes.

CNN = Cable News Network

UFO = Unidentified Flying Object

USAF = United States Air Force

HTTP = Hypertext Transfer Protocol

HIV = Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Contractions are shortened forms of words in which an apostrophe indicates the deletion of letters.

Can’t = Can not  I’ll = I will
Wouldn’t = Would not
You’re = You are
He’s = He is or He has Could’ve = Could Have
    Some tips:
  • Acronyms and brevity codes should be spelled out the first time used in a written document
  • Use a or an based on the pronunciation of the initial sound of abbreviations, acronyms, and brevity codes. (a NASA engineer or an IBM computer)
  • When two abbreviations are possible, use only one. (Either Dr. John Smith OR John Smith, MD)
  • Acronyms can be words specific to an industry or field. Know your audience to prevent your word becoming jargon.
  • Avoid starting a sentence with an abbreviation or contraction – except titles such as Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.
  • Use sparingly, correctly, and consistently.
  • When in doubt, spell it out.


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