People, human beings, live together in communities and have done so for centuries. What makes that living together workable is communication – agreed-upon communication.

People communicate with one another on many different levels and in various ways. Gesticulation, oral and written communication have all grown, progressed and changed over time. The latter two, of course, require you to learn a language. The passing of the years and demands on people’s time have placed greater pressure on us to do more in less time.

People, these days, are always on the lookout for ways to do and say things quicker, easier or simpler.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for someone to comment that, “That shop is open 24/7/365, meaning that it is always open; that it never shuts.

Now, with people spending lots of time on social media sites, many abbreviations are creeping into and, in some cases, dominating their communications. It is quite commonplace for notes between young people, in particular, to be dominated by emoticons or abbreviations. Abbreviations enable people to convey an idea quickly or concisely, as is the case when someone says, “I need to see you asap.” This particular English abbreviation (or acronym) conveys a much greater sense of urgency than if each word were spoken. A well-used one in the USA is the abbreviation for the President of the United States, POTUS, which goes all the way back to 1895.

Abbreviations in English Come in Various Forms

  • The abbreviation is a word in its shortened form, like Ave (for avenue) and Mr (for Mister) have been used on such a regular basis that many don’t even regard them as abbreviations anymore. An abbreviation can also represent a word of phrase taken from another language as is the case with e.g. and R.S.V.P.
  • An initialism (where initials only are used) as in SAA (South African Airways).
  • An acronym is an abbreviation that is read as a word, as in the case of Eskom which means Electricity Supply Commission.
  • A contraction (e.g. aren’t, you’re, she’ll) is often used in everyday speech and writing, but is to be avoided in formal situations.

As you can see, many of these English abbreviations allow you to get an idea across quickly, as long as they are understood by the person being addressed, which would generally be the case.

In our daily lives, we may have been exposed to people using an abbreviation in place of your name. Names like Kimberley are shortened to Kim or Jean Pierre to just the initials JP. While some are irritated by these contractions, others enjoy having a ‘nickname’ or moniker, like TJ, that’s not hurtful. Some wear it like a badge of honour, a symbol of their acceptance and even status within a group. A prime example of this is the abbreviation JFK, which is known world-wide and over many generations.

new yourk city abbreviation sign
NYC is short for New York City. - Source: Unsplash

These features of the English language are growing in popularity, especially among the younger generations, businesspeople and the armed forces. They can be encountered in texts, emails, in online chats and on the various social media platforms. Of course, they also have formal applications such as an office where asap, FYI, BTW and ATTN are often utilised. Abbreviations are also used in official documents like passports.

It may be tough enough to learn English as a second language, without having to learn all of these English abbreviations. It is, however, a great advantage to know English abbreviations, because you will encounter them in all manner of places, every day. We will now explore some common ones. We will look at how they are spelled, what they mean written out, which can be spoken as words and which ones are best used only on social media platforms.

Rules for Formatting English Abbreviations

  1. Capitalisation: It is best to make use of capital letters when writing to avoid any confusion for your reader. A case in point is the word U.S. (the United States) which may be confused with the word us. Although the reader may be able to figure out the correct meaning from the context, it is best to capitalise and not leave people guessing.
  2. Etiquette: When using an abbreviation for the first time in formal writing, assume that your reader doesn’t know it and add it brackets. If you were, for example, writing about the United Nations (UN), it would be advisable to write it in parentheses, before including it in its abbreviated form later in the text. This courtesy to your reader makes the text easier to read as it clarifies the meaning of the abbreviated words immediately.
  3. Full stops: Generally, often-used acronyms are written without full stops between the letters. For example, SAPS and S.A.P.S represent the same thing, but SAPS is used.
  4. Certain abbreviations are so commonly used that the original word may have been forgotten by many users. This is true in cases like HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) , where speaking the entire phrase might not be recognised or understood by the listener.

Generally, an abbreviation should somewhat resemble the word it’s taken from. There are, however, exceptions to the rule.

List of Abbreviated Titles

Titles, whether used in informal or formal writing, are always written in abbreviated form. The long form is never used.

Mr and Mrs wedding cake sign
Mr and Mrs are the titles of married people and come from the words Master and Mistress. - Source: Unsplash

Examples of titles are:

  • Mister (from the word Master) is written as Mr*
  • Mrs* is the title of a married woman and, while it is pronounced "missus", it is derived from the word Mistress. In the 18th century, mistress denoted a woman of high social standing.
  • Doctor is written as Dr*
  • Rev. indicates Reverend
  • Professor is indicated as Prof.

*No full stop is used as the abbreviation ends on the last letter of the word.

Abbreviations With Latin Roots

Several abbreviations have Latin roots, as English incorporated many Latin words as Latin was the language of scholarship in Europe centuries ago. Many of these are still in regular daily use.

Have you ever wondered why we say, “Namely”, yet we write viz?

This is a Latin term videlicet which means “which is” or “as follows”.  This is one of a number of Latin phrases which can be found in textbooks or in our writings, as will be shown below.

  • e.g. comes from the Latin exempli gratia. What follows it is usually added by way of example to explain the aforegoing text.
  • a.m. is the abbreviation for the Latin term ante meridiem, which means before midday.
  • p.m. (post meridiem) means after midday.
  • RIP, inscribed on gravestones and generally read as Rest in Peace, actually stems from the Latin phrase Requiescent In Pace.
  • P.S. added to the bottom of some letters, means Post Script, taken from the Latin term Post Scriptum.
  • etc. (et cetera) is used when constructing a long list of similar items, e.g. We carried water, orange juice, soft drinks, etc. to the store room.
  • i.e. (id est) means ‘that is’ and is used when we wish to expand on something said in a sentence.

The abbreviations below may look a bit odd because they are not used in everyday writing. They are, however, often encountered in historical texts:

  • 1500 BC means 1 500 years before the birth of Christ
  • 350 AD means 350 years after or since the birth of Christ. It is taken from the Latin Anno Domini (year of the lord, Christ)
  • Circa is a term used to state ‘around’ or ‘approximately’ and is abbreviated to c., as in, “The Bede Venerable was born c.673BC.”

Abbreviations for the Provinces of South Africa

South Africa is divided into nine provinces, some of which are listed below.

  • EC means Eastern Cape
  • KZN stands for KwaZulu Natal
  • WC represents the Western Cape

Car number plates sometimes refer to the provinces slightly differently.

  • WP (Western Province, as part of the Cape Province was previously called) refers to the Western Cape
  • L represents Limpopo Province
  • GP means Gauteng Province
  • ZN represents KwaZulu Natal

Cities and airports are also abbreviated, especially on airline tickets. This saves on ink and eases communications when traffic controllers have to refer to the origin or destination of a flight.

  • CPT would refer to Cape Town
  • ATL would mean Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (the largest in the world)
  • SAB refers to the airport on the Caribbean island of Saba (smallest in the world)
  • CDG stands for Charles de Gualle Airport in Paris
  • LHR means London Heathrow Airport
  • JNB means Johannesburg

These are the three-letter codes agreed to by the IATA (International Air Transport Association).

yellow sculpture spelling the word what
Don't fret, with practice you will memorise the most commonly used English abbreviations. - Source: Unsplash

Before we even look at legal abbreviations fully, we run into the LLB, which is the abbreviation for ‘Legum Baccalaureus’, a Bachelor of Laws degree.

Then, there is a long list of terms that can be found in legal documents and contracts. Some are listed below. While many are not encountered daily, they reflect how entrenched English abbreviations are in our lives.

  • PLC means Private Listed Company
  • TPF means Third Party Funds
  • PPP means public private partnership
  • MLA means mutual legal assistance
  • LLC Means Limited Liability Company
  • MoU means Memorandum of Understanding

Also, within the criminal justice system there are numerous instances where abbreviations are used.

  • NICRO refers to the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders
  • NPA means the National Prosecuting Authority
  • SCA refers to the Supreme Court of Appeal
  • ODG means Office of the Director General

In the political arena, many party names are abbreviated and it is in this form that people normally refer to them. The largest of these parties are the:

  • DA , the Democratic Alliance
  • ANC, the African National Congress
  • ACDP, the African Christian Democratic Congress
  • EFF, the Economic Freedom Front

Also very often in the limelight are certain trade unions, such as:

  • COSATU which is the Congress of South African Trade Unions
  • NEHAWU, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union
  • SADTU, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union
  • NAPTOSA, the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa

Useful Abbreviations for Parents

Many parents sometimes hit a point where they need advice from others who are experiencing similar events or challenges. Some turn to online notice boards and sites. The following are some of the shortened forms that you will come across, which may help you understand some of the posts there.

  • AI = artificial insemination
  • BC = birth control
  • BFN = big fat negative (result of pregnancy test)
  • C/S = caesarean section
  • DC = day care
  • DCP = day care provider
  • DH = dear husband
  • DW = dear wife
  • FF = formula feeding
  • IVF = in vitro fertilisation
  • L&D = labour and delivery
  • LO = little one
  • M/C = miscarriage
  • NAK = nursing at keyboard
  • PG = pregnant
  • PPD = postpartum depression
  • OH = other half
  • SAHP = stay-at-home parent
  • U/S = ultrasound
  • WAHM = work-at-home mom
  • XH = ex-husband
  • XW = ex-wife

Would you be able to make sense of the following without referring to the list above?

  “I am a SAHP and my LO is home today with the OH.”

In all probability, not. This goes to show, once again, how ingrained shortened forms (abbreviations) are in our lives today, where people are always looking for  a short-cut.

Abbreviations Encountered in Everyday Life

sign for Hay Street
St is the abbreviation for street. - Source: Unsplash


  • Days of the week are shortened, especially on calendars to one of the following: Mon (M), Tue (T), Wed (W), ... etc.
  • The months are written as Jan, Feb, Mar, ... etc.
  • Europeans are acquainted with GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
  • Americans, with their six different time zones, have to contend with the following:

- EST = Eastern Standard Time

- CST =Central Standard Time

- MST = Mountain Standard Time

- PST = Pacific Standard Time

- AKST = Alaska Standard Time

- HST = Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time

  • An interesting phenomenon occurs in the region of Baker Island and Howland Island. These are the most westerly situated land masses in relation to the International Date Line (IDL) and are situated in a time zone sometimes called the 12th time zone, referred to as Anywhere on Earth (AoE).

South Africa, interestingly, only has one time zone, South African Standard Time (SAST) which coincides with Central African Time. There are many who believe that the country should actually have a second time zone. So, in terms of UTC (Co-ordinated Universal Time), South Africa’s time is UTC+02:00.


There are 2-letter or 3-letter codes used for the representation of names of countries, and these do not always use the first three letters or the initials of the country. Some utilise letters used in the name as it is spelled in its native or former language. Examples of these are:

  • ZA – from the Dutch Zuid-Afrika (South Africa)
  • DE – Deutschland (Germany)
  • CH – Switzerland
  • PT – Portugal
  • EE – Estonia
  • AE – United Arab Emirates
  • ASM – American Samoa
  • AUT – Austria, because AU is reserved for Australia

Some more recognisable ones are, of course:

  • CA (Canada)
  • BW (Botswana)
  • IC – Ivory Coast
  • FR – France
  • USA (United States of America)
  • UK (United Kingdom)


Measurements are not only abbreviated. Sometimes they are represented by a symbol, as when someone’s height is recorded as 5 foot 9 inches. It may be written as 5’9”.

Generally, measures are abbreviated as below.

  • ft – foot/feet
  • in – inch
  • mm – millimetre
  • l – litre
  • g – gram
  • kg – kilogram

There are also irregular abbreviations that one has to be cognisant of. These below are all part of the Imperial System and are still widely used in countries like the USA. The UK officially follows the metric system, but road distances are still measured in miles.

  • oz – ounce
  • lb – pound
  • pt – pint
  • qt – quart

General Life

Numerous abbreviations are found in our everyday dealings with neighbours, friends and are even found in stores.

  • My ETA refers to my estimated time of arrival.
  • DIY means do it yourself
  • RSVP (repondez s’il vous plaît in French) on invitations, requests that invited guests please confirm whether they will attend an event or not.
  • Rd means road.

Abbreviations Used on Social Media Platforms

scrabble tiles spelling UX
UX refers to user experience. - Source: Unsplash

These are numerous and can be further researched on the Internet. A few are listed below, including some fun ones.

  • BTW = by the way
  • BRB = be right back
  • LOL = laughing out loud
  • NP = no problem
  • ROTFL = rolling on the floor laughing
  • BFF = best friends forever
  • FOMO = fear of missing out
  • CUL – see you later
  • AFAIK = as far as I know
  • GTG = got to go
  • NP = no problem
  • IDK = I don’t know
  • FYI = For your information
  • TBH = to be honest
  • YOLO = You only live once
  • IIWII = it is what it is

Young people, in particular, love using these forms of abbreviation to the point where these are now peppering their essay writing exercises, much to the dismay of their teachers.

Abbreviations Used in Business

Then there are numerous shortened forms used in business. Below are a few.

  • AE = Account Executive
  • B2B = Back to Business
  • CEO = Chief Executive Officer
  • COO = Chief Operations Officer
  • CV = Curriculum Vitae
  • FMCG = Fast Moving Consumer Goods
  • GM = General Manager
  • KPI = Key Performance Indicator
  • PA = Personal Assistant
  • ROI = Return on Investment
  • T&Cs = Terms and Conditions

Of course, there are also a growing number of tech specific abbreviations.

  • 5G – Fifth Generation
  • Gig – Gigabyte
  • ISP is Internet Service Provider
  • HTML is Hyper Text Markup Language
  • SEO is Search Engine Optimisation
  • Wifi – wireless
  • Mbps – Megabytes per second

Furthermore, there are some terms that are specific to the tech industry and are as follows:

  • API is Application Programming Interface
  • ESP is Email Service Provider
  • HTML is Hyper Text Markup Language
  • ISP is Internet Service Provider
  • SEO is Search Engine Optimisation
  • UI is User Interface
  • UX is User Experience

A newly enrolled English student, might feel overwhelmed by some abbreviations, especially those which are irregular. However, once you’ve learned several of the regularly used abbreviations, especially those used on social media platforms, like FB (Facebook), you’ll soon be using them like a pro (professional) and not spending long hours at your PC (personal computer) typing messages out in the long form.

To get you started, an English class with a Superprof tutor cannot be trumped!

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Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.