Abbreviations and Acronyms for English Learners

Important Abbreviations
Important Abbreviations. Kenneth Beare

Any shortened form of a word or phrase is an abbreviation. Acronyms are also a type of abbreviation that can be pronounced as a single word. In other words, shortened forms are abbreviations some of which are acronyms. Here's an explanation of the use of abbreviations and acronyms.

Abbreviations are selectively used in spoken conversation, as well as written English. Generally, common abbreviations such as measurements and titles are always abbreviated in written form.

However, days and months are commonly written out. Online, abbreviations and acronyms are most common in texting, chat rooms and in SMS. In spoken English, we often use abbreviations in informal conversations. A good rule of thumb is to use abbreviations and acronyms that you know others are familiar with, and avoid them when they are too specific. For example, if you are having a conversation with a business colleague it may be appropriate to use abbreviations particular to your line of work. However, the use of work related abbreviations would be out of place if speaking with friends. Here is a guide to some of the most common abbreviations.


One of the most common types of abbreviations is the shortened word. Either the first few letters of a word, or important letters in the word are used for this type of abbreviation. Common abbreviations include titles used in everyday conversation, as well as military ranks:

Mr. - Mister
Mrs. - Mistress
Dr. - Doctor
Jr. - Junior
Sr. - Senior
Capt. - Captain
Comdr. - Commander
Col. - Colonel
Gen. - General
Hon. - the Honorable
Lt. - Lieutenant
Rev. - the Reverend

Other common abbreviations include:

Months of the Year

Jan. - January
Feb. - February
Mar. - March
Apr. - April
Aug. - August

- September
Oct. - October
Nov. - November
Dec. - December

Days of the Week

Mon. - Monday
Tues. - Tuesday
Wed. - Wednesday
Thurs. - Thursday
Fri. - Friday
Sat. - Saturday
Sun. - Sunday

Many types of Measurements

Weight and Volume

gal. - gallon
lb - pound
oz - ounce
pt - pint
qt - quart
wt. - weight
vol. - volume


hr - hour
min - minute
sec - second

Length - US / UK

in. - inch
ft - foot
mi - mile
yd - yard

Measures in Metrics

kg - kilogram
km - kilometer
m - meter
mg - milligram
mm - millimeter


Initial Letter Abbreviations

Initial letter abbreviations take the the first letter of each important word in a short phrase to make up the abbreviation. Prepositions are usually left out of initial letter abbreviations. One of the most common initial letter abbreviations is the USA - United States of America. Notice how the preposition 'of' is left out of this abbreviation.

Other common initial letter abbreviations include:


N - North
S - South
E - East
W - West
NE - Northeast
NW - Northwest
SE - Southeast
SW - Southwest

Important Institutions

BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation
EU - European Union
IRS - Internal Revenue Service
NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization
UNICEF - United Nations Children's Fund
WHO - World Health Organization

Types of Measurement

MPH - Miles per hour
RPM - Revolutions per minute
Btu - British thermal units
F - Fahrenheit
C - Celsius

SMS, Texting, Chat

Many abbreviations are used online and in our daily lives with smart phones, chat rooms, etc. Here are a few, but follow the links for a complete list in alphabetical order.

B4N - Bye for now
ASAP - As soon as possible
NP - No problem
TIC - Tongue in cheek

Numbers, A B, C D, E F, G H, I J, K L, M N O, P Q R, S T, U V W, X Y Z

What are Acronyms?

Acronyms are initial letter abbreviations that are pronounced as one word. To take the examples from above, the BBC is NOT an acronym because it is pronounced as it is spelled - the B - B - C. However, NATO is an acronym because it is pronounced as a word. ASAP is another acronym, but ATM is not.

Tips for Using Abbreviations and Acronyms

- Use abbreviations when texting by learning common texting abbreviations

- Use acronyms as a mnemonic device to help you learn a wider range of vocabulary. In other words,  take a list of words you want to learn and memorize the first letters of each word you want to learn.  For example: 

Primary Colors: RBY


- Use abbreviations when writing quick emails in an informal voice

- Do not use abbreviations or when writing formal emails, reports or letters except for common  organization names

- For more uncommon acronyms, use the entire name followed by the acronym in parentheses the  first time you use the acronym in written communications. For example:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is responsible for loaning money to nations. As the world experiences more economic difficulties, the role of the IMF is often called into question.