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Take a moment to think about all the different types of shortened words you know in English. There are acronyms, initialisms, contractions, blends, and more. All of these language types fall under one umbrella term - abbreviations.
In this article, we'll look at:
In its simplest form, an abbreviation is a shortened word or phrase. There are five different types of abbreviations, which can all be differentiated based on the shortening process they go through. They are:
Some examples of these abbreviations include:
Each type of abbreviation differs in its shortening process but all create a shortened form of a word or phrase.
Where do abbreviations come from? As with any word or phrase shortening, abbreviations are created to allow quicker and more effective communication. When the meaning of an abbreviation is universally known (such as ASAP), it can be used in full confidence that the reader will understand what is meant (as soon as possible). In some circumstances, the abbreviation becomes so well-known that the full form can get forgotten or disregarded.
Think of writing PS at the end of a letter or email. We all know that it means you've added a note at the end of your writing when you've already completed your letter, but does everyone know that it stands for the Latin term postscriptum, meaning written after?
When the abbreviated form of a word or phrase becomes more well-known than the long version, it has fully integrated into the English language and is a good way to save time.
Let's have a look at the different types of abbreviations and their characteristics so you can see how to differentiate them from one another.
Acronyms are a type of abbreviation that shorten a longer phrase into a singular word.
An acronym is a shortened phrase where the initial letter of each word is taken and put into a new word. This shortened form is then pronounced as a single word.
Some examples of acronyms are:
RADAR - Radio Detection And Ranging
LASER - Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
PIN - Personal Identification Number
SONAR - Sound Navigation And Ranging
It's not always the case that every word in a phrase has to be represented in an acronym - sometimes conjunctions or prepositions such as with, by, or and are left out so that the acronym can better form a single word.
An initialism is another form of shortened phrase where the initial letters of the words are used.
Initialisms are similar to acronyms except they are pronounced letter by letter and not as a single word.
Some examples of initialisms are:
FBI - Federal Bureau of Investigation
PR - Public Relations
PTSD - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
CIA - Central Intelligence Agency
FAQ - Frequently Asked Question
Acronyms and initialisms can often be confused as they go through a similar shortening process. In both, the initial letter of each word in the phrase is used to create either a word (in the case of acronyms like radar) or a list of letters (in the case of initialisms like CPU).
A clipping can form either an abbreviated-type word (e.g., Mrs) or a well-known word that you may not know has been abbreviated (e.g., pub).
A clipping (or clipped abbreviation) occurs when a word is shortened due to letters or syllables being removed.
Some clippings have shorter spellings and pronunciations (photo for photograph), and some have shortened spellings but keep the original pronunciation (Mr. for mister).
Some examples of clippings are:
Sat Nav - Satellite Navigation
Dr. - Doctor
lb - pounds
pub - public house
gym - gymnasium
A contraction occurs when two words are joined together by replacing a letter or group of letters with an apostrophe.
Contractions are words formed by joining two or more words to create a shortened form. These shortened forms omit letters, which are represented by an apostrophe.
Some examples of contractions are:
can't - can not
shan't - shall not
it's - it is
goodbye - God be with you
you've - you have
Like contractions, blend words are formed by joining two or more words.
Some examples of blends are:
Blend words can also be referred to as portmanteau words.
Many abbreviations occur in specific fields, such as technology, medicine, and writing. We've already mentioned some examples, but let's have a look at a few more in specific fields.
Abbreviations are often used in technology to refer to the lexicon surrounding computers. Here are some examples:
PC - Personal Computer
CD - Compact Disc
DVD - Digital Video Disc
AV - Audio Visual
WWW - World Wide Web
ICT - Information and Communication Technology
HTML - Hyper Text Markup Language
DOS - Disc Operating System
API - Application Program Interface
CPU - Central Processing Unit
These are all one type of abbreviation - initialisms.
Can you think of any other abbreviations associated with technology?
One of the areas where you'll most often see abbreviations used in day-to-day life is instant messaging and texting. Here are some examples you'll likely be familiar with:
OMG - Oh My God
BRB - Be Right Back
LOL - Laughing Out Loud
TTYL - Talk To You Later
DM - Direct Message
ILY - I Love You
JK - Just Kidding
IDK - I Don't Know
LMK - Let Me Know
NVM - Never Mind
Like with the abbreviations associated with technology, these texting abbreviations are mostly initialisms. An exception could be the abbreviation LOL which can be pronounced either letter by letter (ell - oh - ell) or as a singular word (lol), meaning it can be both an initialism and an acronym.
Another type of abbreviation you may often see in text-speak is gramorgrams.
A gramogram occurs when a word or phrase is phonetically similar to a letter, group of letters, or a number and can be written that way to represent the meaning.
Some examples of gramorgrams are:
Gramograms can also be referred to as letteral words.
Abbreviations in text messaging occurred for a more specific reason than most other abbreviations. These were initially coined in the days of paying per character in a text, so people would try to make their messages as short as possible.
Abbreviations are often used for titles when referring to people. Titles are most often clippings.
Here are some abbreviations for titles:
Abbreviations can be used to refer to times of day, historical times, time periods, or times of the year.
Some abbreviations for times are:
Most countries can be referred to by an abbreviated form.
Some examples of abbreviations for counties are:
Some of these are initialisms and some are clippings - can you tell which are which?
Another area where abbreviations are used is in measurements. Some that you may have come across are:
Now, let's clear up some areas that may cause confusion regarding abbreviations:
There aren't any specific synonyms for the term abbreviation, although the terms acronym and abbreviation are often confused.
It's best to remember that the term abbreviation is actually a cover-all term used to refer to the five following word types:
It's a common misconception that abbreviations and acronyms are different things. The truth is, acronyms are a type of abbreviation. The terms can sometimes be used interchangeably when referring to acronyms, however, abbreviations won't always be used to refer solely to acronyms.
To prevent yourself from confusing the terms, remember the following:
All acronyms are a type of abbreviation
Not all abbreviations are acronyms
There are five types of abbreviations:
Now that we've gone over all the different types of abbreviations, let's have a look at some examples for all of them.
Initialisms (Alphabetic Abbreviations)
|HD - High Definition||SCUBA - Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus||Sci-Fi - Science Fiction||Don't - do not||Brunch - breakfast + lunch|
|IT - Information Technology||NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation||ft. - foot / feet||Can't - can not||Spork - spoon + fork|
|ROFL - Rolling On the Floor Laughing||ASCII - American Standard Code for Information Interchange||cm - centimeters||I've - I have||Ginormous - gigantic + enormous|
|AFK - Away From Keyboard||FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out||srsly - seriously||it's - it is||Moped - motor + pedal|
|BTW - By The Way||FLOTUS - First Lady Of The United States||lab - laboratory||goodbye - God be with you||Camcorder - camera + recorder|
|UFO - Unidentified Flying Object||DUFF - Designated Ugly Fat Friend||ml - milliliters||shan't - shall not||Biopic - biographical + picture|
|FYI - For Your Information||GOAT - Greatest Of All Time||teen - teenager||won't - will not||Sportscast - sports + broadcast|
RIP - Rest In Peace
|BOGOF - Buy One Get One Free||typo - typographical error||you'd - you would / had||Smog - smoke + fog|
|AM - Ante Meridian||BAE - Before Anyone Else||vet - veterinarian||hasn't - has not||Cockapoo - Cocker spaniel + poodle|
|ER - Emergency Room||UNICEF - United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund||lunch - luncheon||shouldn't - should not||Vlog - video + blog|
Some abbreviations you may have come across are:
PC, DVD, LOL, IDK, NASA, PIN, and RADAR.
Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases where the meaning remains the same.
An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. An example of an abbreviation is PR, which uses the first letters of the phrase Personal Relations to create an abbreviated form.
The term abbreviation can be used to refer to initialisms, acronyms, clippings, contractions, and blends.
Abbreviations are used to create shortened forms of words or phrases that are quicker to type, text, say, or write. They can allow quicker and more efficient communication, especially when you consider texting on old mobile phones where you had to click through to the desired letter when typing.
Which of these is a type of shortened word or phrase?
All of them
True or false: Abbreviation is the only term used to refer to shortened phrases.
What is the difference between the terms alphabetic abbreviation and abbreviation?
Alphabetic abbreviation is used to refer to shortenings formed of the first letters of the words in a phrase.
Abbreviation can be used as a blanket term to refer to initialisms, acronyms, clippings, contractions and blends.
Which three types of word or phrase shortenings are most commonly referred to as abbreviations?
Why did abbreviations particularly occur in text-speak?
To save time
Which terms would you use to refer to an abbreviation formed by taking the first letter of each word of a phrase and pronouncing them individually?
What are these examples of?
WWW CPU HTML API
True or false: Initialism and acronym are both synonyms for abbreviation.
Explain your answer.
False - Abbreviation can be used as a blanket term to refer to initialisms acronyms and clippings, or abbreviation can be used to refer to alphabetic abbreviations which is a synonym of initialism.
Which of the following terms is a synonym for alphabetic abbreviation?
What is the difference between acronyms and alphabetic abbreviations?
Acronyms are pronounced as singe words (laser), while alphabetic abbreviations are pronounced as lists of letters (PTSD).
What are these examples of?
RADAR PIN GOAT NATO
Which of the following are initialisms?
What does the following passage describe?
A word or phrase is shortened by removing letters or syllables from it. The shortened form may have a shortened spelling (written form) but keep the original pronunciation (spoken form).
Which of the following are examples of clipped abbreviations?
Why is srsly a clipping and not an acronym?
Letters have been taken out of the word seriously to create a shortened or clipped form.
This is not an acronym as it is not made from the initial letters from a sequence of words.
Which of the following is an acronym?
True or false: All abbreviations are acronyms but not all acronyms are abbreviations.
False - All acronyms are abbreviations but not all abbreviations are acronyms.
Complete the statement:
The first letter of each word in a phrase is pronounced individually in an ................
Acceptable answers are:
True or false: Acronyms form a word.
Which of these words isn't an example of a clipping?
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