Abbreviations – What are they, origin, examples and difference with acronyms

We explain what abbreviations are, how they are read, their origin, history and various examples. Also, differences with acronyms.

abbreviations mr mrs
The abbreviation is usually the initial letter of the word, along with some other and a period.

What are abbreviations?

Abbreviations are called shortening or abbreviation of a word or expression, due to spelling conventions within the written language, reducing it to a letter or a set of letters, and thus facilitating its annotation. They generally consist of the initial uppercase letter of the word, accompanied or not by other lowercase letters, and ending in a period.

Abbreviations have their traditional place in the language, and many of them were inherited from now dead languages ​​(such as Latin and Greek), but others come from technical and scientific language, or from specific uses that are becoming the norm.

Thus, based on their origin, abbreviations are usually classified as:

  • Conventional. Its historical origin and are used by the entire community of speakers.
  • Personal. They are created in an intimate or personal way by oneself. They work only among a community of connoisseurs, who handle the code.

Otherwise, the abbreviations:

  • They can consist of several abbreviations together, or several for the same use. For example, to abbreviate “page”, you can choose between “p.” and “p.”, according to the methodological norm in use, or to the taste of the writer.
  • When abbreviated to a plural, they usually include a “S” at the end, or the same abbreviated letter is repeated. Thus, for “pages” you can choose between “pages.” or “pp.” again, depending on taste and methodology.
  • When there is gender variation in the abbreviated word, it is taken into account add an “-a” or the proper ending in the abbreviation. For example: is used and Ms., for “Lord” and “Lady”. Is less common Ms. for “Miss.”
  • They can include special characters as slashes (/), numerals (°), or intermediate points. But its spelling is always conventional, that is, fixed.
  • When reading (aloud), generally the abbreviated term is recited normally, and not the abbreviation. That is, instead of saying “P.“, We will say” page “.

Abbreviations should never be confused with acronyms, symbols or acronyms.

Origin of abbreviations

Many of the abbreviations we use today come from ancient Latin or Greek. In fact, some are literally Latin expressions that logically no longer exist in Spanish, but survive as abbreviations, as is the case with et al., which comes from the Latin voice et álii, “and others”.

In these languages, abbreviations were so widely used for writing official documents, for example in the Roman Empire, that Emperor Justinian was forced to ban them from official documents, because they made it almost impossible to understand the written message.

This tendency was inherited to the different Romance languages, and in documents written in medieval Spanish it is common to find numerous abbreviations, such as VM by “Your Majesty”, for example. Again, this trend was so common and abusive that the French King Philip the Fair banned them from royal documentation during his reign, in 1304.

Examples of abbreviations

abbreviations examples
Abbreviations such as am and pm are used daily.

Here is a list of the most common abbreviations in Spanish:

et al.“And others”, “and others”
op. cit.“Cited work”
N. of T.“Translator’s note”
N. of E.“Editor’s note”
aa. vv. / AA. VV.“Various authors”
to. C.“BC”
d. C.“after Christ”
A.M“before noon”
p.m“after the midday”
av., avd., avda.“avenue”
c., c /“Street”
cta. cte., c / c“current account”
A / A“air conditioning”
Company, Comp., Cía“company”
Cmdt., Cmte.“commander”
CP“Postal Code”
D. and“Don” and “Doña”
Mr.“Mr. Mrs. Miss”
etc.“and so on”
ib., ibid.“In the same place”
id.“the same”
p., p., pg.“page”
sf, s / f“without date”
H.H“Your Holiness”
VO“Original version”

Abbreviations and acronyms

We should not confuse abbreviations, which are conventionally or historically abbreviated words or expressions, with acronyms, which are abbreviated ways of citing the name of an entity or organization. Although they obey the same principle (shorten certain terms in the written speech) and are not usually read in an abbreviated way, but in full, the acronyms have different writing conventions.

To begin with, acronyms do not usually have a period (that is, USSR and no USSR), and are constructed by choosing the initial letter of each of the main terms of the abbreviated name (in this case: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, note that the “of” is not taken into account as it is a secondary term), and constructing with them a single expression.