Top Tips for Forming Abbreviations

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Should you capitalise an abbreviation? Does it need an apostrophe? What about full stop after it? This week, we’re looking at the different types of abbreviations and how to write each type correctly. Whether or not you should capitalise or use a punctuation mark will depend on the type of abbreviation you are dealing with.


A word made up of the first letters of other words is called an acronym. An acronym is always pronounced as a word and not as separate letters.

Most acronyms are written either with the first letter capitalised or with all the letters capitalised.

You don’t need to use a full stop after an acronym (unless it is the last word in a sentence).

For example:

  • Nato or NATO (North American Treaty Organisation)
  • Aids or AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

In some cases, when an abbreviation is very established, it becomes a word in its own right because people no longer associate the abbreviation with its full form. In these words, the letters do not need to be capitalised.

For example:

  • laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation)
  • scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).


A contraction is a shortened version of a word created by taking out letters from either the middle or the end of the word. If the last letter of the original word remains in the contracted version of the word, you do not need to add a full stop after the word.

For example:

  • Dr (doctor)
  • Revd (reverend)
  • Rev. (reverend)
  • para. (paragraph).

Some contractions are formed by combining more than one word and omitting a sound.

In these words, the omission of a sound (which is usually a vowel) is marked with an apostrophe.

Since these contractions contain the last letter of the original word, you do not need to use a full stop.

For example:

  • aren’t (are not)
  • won’t (will not)
  • didn’t (did not).

You can find more detailed blog posts on contractions here and here.


An initialism is made up of the first letters of the included words and each letter is pronounced separately when spoken (rather than as a word).

In an initialism, every letter should be capitalised.

For example: •

  • UK (United Kingdom)
  • BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

While you don’t need to put full stops after initialisms, people sometimes prefer to use them. If you choose to use full stops, make sure you do so consistently within a piece of work.

For example:

  • U.S. (United States).

When using apostrophes with initialisms, the usual rules apply.

When forming the plural of an initialism, do not use an apostrophe.

For example:

  • MPs
  • DVDs.

When indicating possession, use an apostrophe.

For example:

  • CEO’s salary
  • 1970’s fashion.


A shortening is a word that has been abbreviated by cutting the beginning and/or end letters. In some cases, the shortened versions of words are more well-known than the original versions.

As shortenings are so well established, you do not need to use an apostrophe to show letters have been omitted.

You should only capitalise a shortening if the original version starts with a capital letter.

For example:

  • piano (pianoforte)
  • flu (influenza)
  • Brit (British person).

Shortenings usually become popular in speech before they make their way into writing. This means that some shortenings involve a slight spelling change to emphasise how the shortened version of the word is pronounced.

For example:

  • bike (bicycle)
  • telly (television).

If a shortening is created specifically for writing (and is rarely spoken that way), you may need to use a full stop.

For example:

  • Feb. (February)
  • Wed. (Wednesday)
  • etc. (et cetera).

For other top tips, click here.

01 Aug 2016
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