Learn Three Ways to Shorten Words in English

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What’s the difference between abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms?

Learn how to shorten words to improve your English writing


We love to shorten everything in English. This is especially true in an age where texting has become the preferred way to communicate with one another. In writing, there are three common methods we can use to shorten words: abbreviations(1), acronyms(2), and initialisms(3). This blog will give you all the information you need to be able to read, write, and differentiate between them. 


Let’s face it, writing long words can be a nuisance(4), especially when you’re in a rush or need to write the same word multiple times. This is where abbreviations come in. Chances are, you’ve already seen many of these abbreviations before, but here are some of the most common abbreviations you are likely to come across. 

Days of the week: Mon., Tues., Wed., Thurs., Fri., Sat., Sun. 

Months of the year: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sep., Oct., Nov., Dec.

Measurements: “cm” for centimeter, “mm” for millimeter, and “in” for inch. 

Titles: “Mr.” for mister, “Ms.” for miss, and “Mrs.” for mistress. 

Map Locations: “st.” for street, “Ave.” for avenue, “dr.” for drive, “blvd.” for boulevard and “ln.” for lane. 

Calendar from 1948

Here are a few common abbreviations found in writing that tend to confuse people. 

i.e. stands for id est, which means, “in other words.” 

Ex. I love to eat western food, i.e., pizza and cheeseburgers. 

e.g. stands for “example given.” 

Ex. Tonight, we will explore some popular areas in Taipei, e.g, Taipei 101, Longshan Temple, and Daan Park. 

etc. stands for etcetera, which means, “and other things.” 

Ex. She bought way too much stuff at the department store. She walked out with shoes, a hat, pants, and a new blouse, etc. 

One thing to note about abbreviations is that they are informal. Most of the time,  they shouldn’t be used in academic, professional, or formal writing. Before you use these, just assess(5) whether or not abbreviations are appropriate for what you are writing, i.e. save them for your texts or personal notes rather than your Master’s thesis or C.V. 


People often confuse initialisms—which we will cover soon—and abbreviations for acronyms. Some dictionaries are making exceptions since so many people misuse these terms, but as far as acronyms go, they need to spell out another longer word or phrase while making a new word ( they often shorten the lengthy names of certain organizations). 

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One great example is NASA. You pronounce this word just as it’s spelled, and it was created to shorten the official name, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a name that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like NASA does. If the abbreviation doesn’t form a new word that is pronounced just as it’s written, it isn’t technically an acronym. Let’s look at some of the most common acronyms to better understand this concept.

scuba: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus 

radar:  radio detection and ranging 

GIF: Graphics Interchange Format 

AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Program 

TED (talk): tell me, explain to me, describe to me

CAPTCHA: Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart

Yahoo: yet another hierarchical officious oracle

ZIP: Zone Improvement Plan 

IKEA: Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd

CD-ROM: Compact Disc Read-Only Memory 


Some people will claim that initialisms are acronyms, but that is debatable(6). Words like NBA and VIP are initialisms: There is no way to pronounce the letters like a typical word, but we instead pronounce each letter sound separately. 

There are some examples that can be classified as both acronyms or initialisms. Think about the word ASAP. You can pronounce this phonetically as one word or say each letter separately A-S-A-P. 

There are tons of initialisms, but here are a handful of common examples that everyone can recognize. 

IQ: intelligence quotient 

lol:  laugh out loud

UFO: unidentified flying object 

a UFO flying over tracks

RSVP:  répondez s’il vous plaît (please respond)

TBA: to be announced 

OMG: oh my god

ETA: estimated time of arrival 

NBA – National Basketball Association 

VIP: very important person 

3D: three dimensional 

I will leave it open whether initialisms are a subset of acronyms, but it’s better to understand the subtle differences between abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms regardless. 


Knowing how words are shortened in English text will make you a better reader and a more effective writer. Instead of getting hung up on definitions, learn what the most common abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms mean, and you will be well on your way to better understanding how words in English get shortened in text and writing. 


1. abbreviation (n.)

Def. a short form of a word, etc.

Ex. The abbreviation for Monday is Mon. 

2. acronym (n.)

Def. a word formed from the first letters of the words that make up the name of something. 

Ex. The acronym for “Graphics Interchange Format” is GIF. 

3. initialism (n.)

Def. a word formed from the first letters of the words that make up the name of something, with each letter pronounced separately

Ex. The initialism for “very important person” is VIP. 

nuisance (n.)

4. Def. a thing, person or situation that is annoying or causes trouble or problems

Ex. Mosquitos are such a nuisance during the summer. 

5. assess (v.)

Def. to make a judgement about the nature or quality of somebody/something

Ex. He assessed the hiking route, and it is just too dangerous to proceed until the snow melts. 

6. debatable (adj.)

Def. not certain because people can have different ideas and opinions about the thing being discussed

Ex. Whether or not the Earth was created by the Big Bang is debatable


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