ab·​bre·​vi·​a·​tion | \ ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən How to pronounce abbreviation (audio) \

Definition of abbreviation

1 : a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole word or phrase "Amt" is an abbreviation for "amount." "USA" is an abbreviation of "United States of America."
2 : the act or result of abbreviating something : abridgment I know you would not be satisfied with an abbreviation of its contents, and you shall have the whole, save, perhaps, a few passages here and there of merely temporary interest to the writer …— Anne Brontë

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What is an abbreviation?

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a written word or phrase. Abbreviations may be used to save space and time, to avoid repetition of long words and phrases, or simply to conform to conventional usage.

The styling of abbreviations is inconsistent and arbitrary and includes many possible variations. Some abbreviations are formed by omitting all but the first few letters of a word; such abbreviations usually end in a period: Oct. for October, univ. for university, and cont. for continued. Other abbreviations are formed by omitting letters from the middle of the word and usually also end in a period: govt. for government, Dr. for Doctor, and atty. for attorney. Abbreviations for the names of states in the U.S. are two capitalized letters, e.g., AR for Arkansas, ME for Maine, and TX for Texas.

Acronyms are abbreviations formed from the initial letters of an expanded phrase and usually do not include periods: PR for public relations, CEO for chief executive officer, and BTW for by the way. Some acronyms are pronounced as words: FEMA for Federal Emergency Management Agency and NATO for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although some people assert that all acronyms not pronounced as words, such as EPA for Environmental Protection Agency, be referred to as initialisms, the term acronym is in fact applied to both.

What's the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym?

Some people are unsure of whether to call ASAP or appt abbreviations or acronyms. Both abbreviation and acronym are used to refer to a shortened form, but an acronym is a shortened form of a phrase and is usually made up of the initial letters of that phrase. For example, NATO comes from “North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” and ASAP comes from “as soon as possible.” Abbreviations, on the other hand, can be shortened forms of words or phrases, and need not necessarily be made up of the initial letters of either. ASAP and appt (for appointment) are both considered abbreviations, but only ASAP is an acronym. Acronyms are a type of abbreviation.

Examples of abbreviation in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The coronavirus pandemic has taken away another summertime tradition in the U.S.: There will be no free Slurpees at 7-Elevens on Saturday — July 11 — to hail a date that doubles as an abbreviation of the convenience store chain’s name. NBC News, "Pandemic leads 7-Eleven to forgo free Slurpees on 7-11," 11 July 2020 The name for the disease actually is an abbreviation, with 'CO' for 'corona,' 'VI' for virus,' and 'D' for disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lorraine Longhi, azcentral, "'That is my shame': Scottsdale council member Guy Phillips apologizes for sharing false coronavirus info," 24 Mar. 2020 As explained by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 (an abbreviation of Coronavirus disease 2019) is the name for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Lucy Diavolo, Teen Vogue, "Coronavirus and COVID-19: What They Are, What's the Difference, and How You Can Respond," 12 Mar. 2020 Like the military, the M.T.A. is fond of abbreviations and acronyms. Andy Newman, New York Times, "Fix Everything Wrong at 23 Subway Stations? It Beats His Last Job," 17 Mar. 2020 Somewhere north of Orlando and south of Georgia, Sylvia Longmire rotates her right forearm to reveal 15 rows of three-letter abbreviations inked onto her skin. Andrea Sachs, Washington Post, "An accessible-travel insider documents her trip on the world’s longest passenger train," 26 Dec. 2019 The name for the disease actually is an abbreviation, with 'CO' for 'corona,' 'VI' for virus,' and 'D' for disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arizona Republic, "Scottsdale councilman shares false info claiming COVID-19 means 'Chinese Originating' virus," 22 Mar. 2020 The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, told reporters during a news conference that the service members were diagnosed with ‘‘concussions and TBI,’’ an abbreviation for traumatic brain injury. Dan Lamothe,, "Pentagon says 34 US troops were diagnosed with brain injuries after Iranian missile attack," 24 Jan. 2020 The positional abbreviation next to either Cowan or Henry-Young’s name does not really matter at this point. Nathan Baird, cleveland, "Why Ohio State football’s Jacolbe Cowan and Darrion Henry-Young focus on how they play, not where," 14 Mar. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abbreviation.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of abbreviation

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for abbreviation

Middle English abbreviacioun "contraction, shortening," borrowed from Anglo-French abreviation, borrowed from Late Latin abbreviātiōn-, abbreviātiō, from abbreviāre "to abbreviate" + Latin -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of action nouns

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Time Traveler for abbreviation

Time Traveler

The first known use of abbreviation was in the 15th century

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Statistics for abbreviation

Last Updated

19 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Abbreviation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for abbreviation


ab·​bre·​vi·​a·​tion | \ ə-ˌbrē-vē-ˈā-shən How to pronounce abbreviation (audio) \

Kids Definition of abbreviation

: a shortened form of a word or phrase

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