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Formal abbreviations in English

By Matthew, October 31 2013, 06:10
Sarah Parrott via Flickr
A list of shortened words and phrases often used in formal English

Written English uses many abbreviations. Often these are used in business emails, notes and memos. This list will help you understand English abbreviations.

Abbreviation Meaning Written Example Used in spoken English?
# number Do you have invoice #322034? No - say "number"
a/c account Can you email me the details for a/c number 22-356? No - say "account"
AGM annual general meeting Shareholders voted at the AGM. Yes
anon. anonymous
used when an author or creator is not known
Primary Colors by Anon. was about Bill Clinton No - say "anonymous"
apt. apartment He's in apt. 204 No - say "apartment" or "number"
ASAP as soon as possible Please finish the report ASAP. Yes
attn for the attention of
used on letters and memos
Attn: Sarah Jones. No - say "attention"
approx. approximately Expecting approx. 300 people at the conference. Sometimes, but usually say "approximately"
b. born Mozart (b. 1756) No - say "born"
bcc blind copy to
comes from "blind carbon copy"
Can you please bcc human resources in the email? Yes
c. around
comes from Latin: circa
He was born c. 1750. No - say "circa" or "around"
C. century 20thC. No - say "century"
cc copy to
comes from "carbon copy"
Make sure you cc the boss. Yes
CEO chief executive officer New CEO hired Yes
cf. compare
comes from Latin: confer
Sales in the third quarter increased (cf. second quarter). No - say "compared with" or "compare"
CFO chief financial officer CFO on vacation till end of week Yes
c/o care of
used on addresses; sometimes c/-
Ralph Sawyer
c/o Accounts
No - say "care of"
cont. continued
also contd.
Contd. next week. No - say "continued"
d. died Mozart (d. 1791) No - say "died"
dept department Send all communications to the publicity dept. No - say "department"
d.o.b. date of birth Name: John Johanson
D.O.B. 25-4-82
No - say "date of birth"
e.g. for example
comes from Latin: exempli gratia
Bring items required for presentation—e.g. laptop, product samples, etc. Sometimes, but usually say "for example"
esp. especially I miss Japanese food, esp. ramen and sushi! No - say "especially"
est. established Starbucks (est. 1971) now has about 20,000 stores No - say "established"
ETA estimated time of arrival ETA is 10.30am Yes
et al. and others
comes from Latin: et alia
Please see the report by Spencer et al. Yes
etc. and so on
from Latin: et cetera
The meeting covered the project schedule, budget, marketing plan etc. No - say "et cetera"
fig. figure ...as shown in fig. 3 No - say "figure"
fwd forward Please fwd to Bill No - say "forward"
HR human resources You'll need to talk to HR. Yes
i.e. that is
come from Latin: id est
We visited both the old and new capitals of Japan i.e. Kyoto and Tokyo. No - say "namely" or "that is to say"
incl. includes/included Batteries incl. No - say "included" or "includes"
max. maximum Max. temperature: 180°C Sometimes
min. minimum Min. cost: $200 per person No - say "minimum"
misc. miscellaneous Responsibilities include misc. office tasks No - say "miscellaneous"
msg. message Caller: Dave from IT
Msg: PC upgraded and new software installed
No - say "message"
n/a not applicable/available
used on forms when the requested information is not relevant
also used when products are not available
Comes in three colours:
- red
- white
- black n/a
No - only used in writing
N.B. it is important to notice
comes from Latin: nota bene
We are open 7 days a week. N.B. Closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day No - say "note"
no. number Beckham is no. 23 No - say "number"
p., pp. page, pages Turn to p. 7 for more information
Marketing plan is on pp. 23 - 30
No - say "page" or "pages"
p.a. per year
comes from Latin: per annum
His salary is more than $1m p.a. No - say "per annum" or "per year"
pls please Pls call before 4. No - say "please"
PR public relations She's in charge of PR. Yes
p.s. postscript
used before a phrase added at the end of a letter or email
p.s. I'll be back to work on the 5th.
No - only used in writing
p.t.o. please turn over
used at the bottom of a page to show there is something on the other side
For more information p.t.o. No - say "please turn over" or "please turn the page"
qty. quantity Item number: 3847c
Qty. 6
No - say "quantity"
R&D research and development He's been in R&D for about 7 years. Yes
re with reference to Call Morgan re Tuesday's appointment Sometimes
RSVP please reply
comes from French: répondez s'il vous plaît
RSVP by June 1st. Yes
TBA to be advised
also TBC — to be confirmed
Meeting on Wednesday, but time is TBC No - say "to be confirmed" or "not yet confirmed"
vs. versus We watched Japan vs. Australia No - say "versus" or "against"
  1. It is important to use periods when they are shown. For example, the period makes the difference between the following clear: "no" = opposite of "yes"; and "no." = number.
  2. Some of the above can be used in spoken English, like "CEO", "HR", "ASAP" etc.
  3. Some when spoken must be said in full, like "et cetera" and "circa".
  4. There are lots and lots more abbreviations used in English by different generations, different nationalities and different subcultures. Use Acronym Finder to find the meaning of anything that is not on this list — their database has more than 5,000,000 acronyms and abbreviations!
  • Matthew's picture
    About me
    I am from New Zealand. I lived in Japan and Brazil for a long time, but now I am back home in Auckland. I am the founder of Poligo. I like to play guitar and video games and surf when I get the chance. I have a wife and two boys.
    I specialize in teaching English to professionals and English teachers. I have taught English since 2001 in Japan, New Zealand and Brazil. I speak Japanese & Portuguese. I am the founder of Poligo and The English Farm (an online school for business English).

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