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20 useful abbreviations

OMG! LOL!! I’m sure you’ve seen, heard and even used one of these extremely common abbreviations, but do you know the difference between an initialism and an acronym?

I’ll start by describing the four different abbreviations then give some examples which I hope will be useful in everyday life.



This is one the most common forms of abbreviation because it reduces a phrase down to a few letters, taking the first initial of each word so for instance ‘Oh my God’ becomes ‘OMG’ and ‘laugh out loud’ becomes ‘LOL’. You usually pronounce each letter individually: ‘oh-em-gee’ and ‘el-oh-el’, but it’s increasing common to say ‘lol’ as one syllable.

Here are some other common initialisms which you may recognize from texting and social media:

1. BRB (be right back): this is used to signal to someone that you are stepping away from your phone or computer for a short period of time. This is usually written rather than spoken.

2. DM (direct message): this is used in speaking as well as writing. “DM me over the weekend and let me know when you want to meet up”.

3. jk (just kidding): this is used after a message to show the reader that what you said is a joke. This is usually written rather than spoken. It’s never written in capital letters, but I don’t know why.

4. FYI (for your information): an informal way of giving someone new information or advice. This is used in speaking as well as writing: “Oh, FYI, Maria’s pregnant again”.

5. tbh (to be honest): this is written after a revealing an opinion, emotion or difficult truth. Not usually spoken and never capitalised.


This form of abbreviation uses initialism as well but the letters are pronounced as one word, like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Agency) and Scuba (Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving. This is usually because it’s quicker to make a word rather than say every letter (try pronouncing each letter in Scuba and you’ll see why!) LOL can be either an initialism (el-oh-el) or an acronym, (lol). All acronyms are very common in speaking.

1. PIN (Personal Identification Number): you use this when paying with your debit or credit card. “Enter your PIN now, please”.

2. Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity): we all use this. “Is there free Wi-Fi here?” Make sure you pronounce ‘wi’ like ‘why’.

3. ASAP (As soon as possible): used when you want something done straight away. Pronounce as ‘eisap’. If you speak out the letters individually, then you are using an initialism.

4. YOLO (You only live once): used when you decide to do something you wouldn’t normally do, like “I’m going Scuba diving tomorrow, YOLO”.

5. FOMO (Fear of missing out): used to express the feeling when you miss out on something fun that others are doing. “I had terrible FOMO last night, I couldn’t go to Jackie’s party.”

You may also have used a CAPTCHA online. This stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.


This form just makes a longer word shorter for convenience eg ‘January’ becomes ‘Jan’ and ‘Friday’ becomes ‘Fri’. These shortenings are more commonplace in writing, like texts and emails but you will occasionally hear them in spoken English as well.

1. Days of the week: Mon, Tues, Weds, Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun. These are further abbreviated to M, T, W, Th, F, Sa and Su in writing.

2. Months of the year: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr and so on. These are not further abbreviated in case they get confused with the days of the week.

3. Ad (advertisement): if you’re confused about how to pronounce ‘advertisement’ (the stress can fall either on the first syllable or the second) then just use ‘ad’.

4. Memo (memorandum): you probably use this already as no one uses the longer form. “Didn’t you get the memo?”

5. Exam (examination): the long form of this word might be similar in your language, but in English it’s almost always shortened to ‘exam’. PS it’s pronounced ‘igzam’!

Other very common words that are shortened, or clipped, are ‘phone’, ‘gym’ and ‘pub’. The longer forms are so rarely used these days as to have almost no relevance.


This is another common form of abbreviation which removes letters from a word or phrase. You’ll be familiar with she’s, he’s, it’s etc. Dr (doctor), Mr (Mister and Mrs (Missus) are all abbreviated in writing as very common in informal speaking.

1. ‘ve : add this to the end of modal verbs instead ‘have’. It’s much more natural and less effort! “You could’ve started doing this months ago!”

2. How’d: use this in a question instead of ‘how did’. Again, it’s a natural way to contract. “How’d you find out about contractions?”

3. Tsp and tbsp (teaspoon and tablespoon): these are units of measurement that are frequently contracted in recipes. Make sure you know the difference and don’t ruin that chocolate cake!

4. E.g (for example) and i.e (in other words). Lots of people make the mistake of confusing these two. Use the second to use express the same idea in a different way and you should be fine.

5. Dept (department): this is only really in writing but stop getting lost in the hospital!

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