Abbreviations and Acronyms for English Learners

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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. 

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.

Titles

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
  • Ms.
  • 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
  • Sept. - 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

Weight and Volume

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

Time

  • 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 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:

Directions

  • 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 smartphones, 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

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 one 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--red , blue , yellow
  • 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.