Abbreviations: What Are Abbreviations? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on May 25, 2023

If you want to learn more about abbreviations and how to use them, you've come to the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know to employ them correctly in your writing.

The quick explanation is as follows:

  • Abbreviations are shortened versions of words used instead of the whole word.
  • They're made using only some of the letters from the original word. 

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Abbreviations?

The word 'abbreviation' comes from the noun 'brief,' which means 'short.' It makes sense then that a word's abbreviation is a shortened version of it.

Using abbreviations in your writing can save you time and space and make your writing more to the point if you use them properly.

Here are some common abbreviations:

  • mr → mister
  • pop → population
  • NASA → National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Jan → January
  • they'd → they would

It's essential to ensure your reader will understand what you mean when you use abbreviations, as while some are very well-known, others are pretty obscure. So if you're using the former, introduce and explain it the first time you use it.

  • Also, remember that many abbreviations are considered informal, so be aware of the setting you're using them in, as some may not be appropriate for formal writing, for instance.
  • Remember that abbreviations are not always standardized; how they're written depends on the style guide you follow, so be sure to consult it if you want to be sure.

Now let's dive into the different types of abbreviations.

Types of Abbreviation

There are five different types of abbreviations:

  • clippings
  • contractions
  • initialisms
  • acronyms
  • modern abbreviations

We'll learn about each of these one by one.


Clipping abbreviations—also known as shortening—are formed by 'clipping,' i.e., cutting a part of the word off. This means the term ends up with fewer syllables than it began with.

Here are some example sentences that contain some commonly known clippings:

That rhino is the size of a house! (rhinoceros)

These days there's an app for everything. (application)

The deadline for the report is on Mon, Jan 27th. (Monday; January)

You can even form these abbreviations to shorten multiple words into one—case in point with the word 'gestapo' (Geheime Staats Polizei).


You already know about contractions, but perhaps you didn't think they're considered abbreviations. It makes sense, after all, since they're shortened versions of a word. They're formed by fusing two words and joining them with an apostrophe.

Here are some examples:

Who's coming for happy hour cocktails? (who)

That man's my father. (man is)

They're pretty intent on selling the house. (they are)


Initialisms are formed using... you guessed it, a group of words' initials! This abbreviation works for multiple terms: you take the first letter of each word, put the letters together, and you've got your abbreviation. To read the new word out loud, pronounce each letter individually.

Here are some common initialisms:

I don't want the FBI knocking on my door. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

She's the CEO of this organization(Chief Executive Officer)

Let's create a FAQ section for the website. (Frequently Asked Questions)

Initially, these types of abbreviations contained periods after each letter, but over time they've mostly been dropped, although some style guides still recommend using them.

  • Initialisms tend to be primarily written in capitals, but if the word itself doesn't use capitals, you can also write the abbreviation in lowercase. For example, you could write 'faq.' 

Use the same indefinite article as if you were writing the words in full.

A Chief Executive Officer → A CEO


Acronyms are similar to initialisms in that they combine the first letter of each word, but the difference is that the resulting word is pronounced as a new word instead of pronouncing the name of each letter.

For example, the abbreviation NASA is pronounced as a word in its own right. You don't pronounce each letter one after the other, 'n,' 'a,' 's,' 'a;' you say 'NASA.'

Here are some common examples of acronyms:

My laptop has 8gb of RAM(Random Access Memory)

I liked the movie but the POV scenes were a little disturbing. (point of view)

They're havng a huge BOGOV sale. (buy one get one free)

The same period, capitalization, and article rules apply here as they do for initialisms.

Modern Abbreviations

Advances in technology have made way for a whole new category of abbreviations: those used on social media and in text messaging.

I'm sure you're familiar with the following:

  • lol (laugh out loud)
  • btw (by the way)
  • idk (I don't know)
  • ama (ask me anything)
  • g2g (got to go)

Online slang, textese, text speak... there are many names for this modern kind of abbreviation. There are many different schools of thought on its efficiency and effect on language, but whether you like it or not, it's here to stay.

The rules surrounding its use aren't as straightforward since it isn't a standardized form of abbreviation. What's more, new ones pop up all the time. The best to stay up to date is to keep up with the trends. But the good news is that it won't be held against you if you use uppercase where you shouldn't or leave out a period here and there. The critical thing with textese is just that you are understood.

Concluding Thoughts on Abbreviations

That concludes this article on the use of abbreviations in the English language. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Abbreviations are shortened versions of words.
  • There are five types: clippings, contractions, initialisms, acronyms, and textese.
  • With initialisms and acronyms, you can use block capitals or not, and you can decide whether or not you'd like to use periods between the letters.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like our Grammar Book, a free online database full of articles like this one. Check it out!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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