Abbreviations are shortened forms of words.

They were originally created back in the dusty, pre-computer days when everybody wrote things longhand. They saved writers time and probably prevented a lot of nasty hand cramps.

Today, we don't have as great a need for abbreviations in formal writing, but some hardy abbreviations or acronyms have managed to hang around. Check it out:

Titles before and after people's names: Mr. Wendall; Gregory House, M.D.

Time: 6:45 p.m., 125 B.C.E.

Familiar countries: U.S.A., U.K.

Familiar objects: DVD, PS4

Well-known corporations and organizations: CBS, IBM, NAACP

Latin terms (save these for your footnotes and parentheses, though)

i.e. (that is), et al. (and others), etc. (and so forth), e.g. (for example)

While we know your time is ultra valuable, don't go overboard with the abbreviations. The following things should not be abbreviated in your papers and essays (but can be in other situations):

Measurements: write centimeters not cm.; write pound not lb.

Days and months: write Friday not Fri.

Place names: write New York City not N.Y.C.; write Avenue not Ave.

Areas of study: write biology not bio.

Chapters, volumes, and other parts of works: write chapter not ch.



A candy shop just opened up next door to the offices of Jude Schnickelman, D.D.S.

Well, that's convenient… maybe too convenient. In this example, D.D.S. is an abbreviation for the title Doctor of Dental Surgery.

According to Google Maps, the pumpkin farm is thirty-five miles away, so we should leave at 8:15 a.m. at the latest if we want to be there when it opens.

We hear those big pumpkins are a hot commodity. Let's carve up this sentence: a.m. is abbreviated because it refers to time; miles isn't because it's a unit of measurement.

Graham made his girlfriend a playlist of foot-themed MP3s to listen to while she studies for her podiatry exam.

In this sentence, MP3 is abbreviated to an acronym because it's a familiar object. Podiatry is not because it's an area of study. Now if you'll excuse us, we're going to go listen to Chromeo's "Fancy Footwork" on repeat.


Common mistakes

Are abbreviations and acronyms the same thing?

We don't know.

Seriously. There are people who say that an acronym is a form of truncation where you take the first initials of the words in a phrase to form a new word. Allow us to show you what they mean:

SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, and you pronounce it "scooba."

These sticklers say that something like "FBI" is not an acronym because you don't pronounce it like the word "fibby." Right? Well, we guess you could, but no one would know what you're talking about. Something like "FBI" would be considered an initialism.

But then there are other people (like us) who say that when you take the first initials of the words in a phrase, it's an acronym—whether you pronounce them like a new word or not. Hey, why discriminate based on the totally random placement of vowels? Psh.

P.S. Whether or not you place a period between each letter in an acronym is up to you. It's a style choice. We at Shmoop like to leave them out. It saves time, and we're very busy, terribly important people.


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