Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms

Back to the style guide menu

No need for full stops – eg, ie, FTSE, IRS and so on. (Although we’re actually not that keen on the first two.)

If the short version’s more familiar than the full one, like BBC, FBI or FAQs, you don’t need to write it out.

If it’s not, or if you aren’t sure how well known it is, put it in full the first time you use it, then use just the short version from then on – International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But avoid using it at all if you can – so you’d call the IAEA the Agency.

And never use ‘TOV’ instead of ‘tone of voice’. You’ll be struck by lightning.

Interesting (maybe) facts: People use the term ‘acronym’ to describe anything made up of initial letters, but most dictionaries define it as ‘a word’. So, NATO is an acronym (because it’s pronounced as a word) but DNA is an initialism. (Short for deoxyribonucleic acid.)

Did you know that scuba is an acronym? It stands for ‘self-contained underwater breathing apparatus’. You know it now.

No one knows what to call the ones whose pronunciation involves a combination of letter names and words, like JPEG or MS-DOS.

An abbreviation (from the Latin brevis which means ‘short’) is a shortened form of a word or phrase, usually a letter or group of letters taken from that word or phrase. Like if you abbreviated ‘abbreviation’ to ‘abbrev’. But if you did that the world might explode.