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Understanding the Difference Between “Abbreviations” and “Acronyms”

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We’ll go over what abbreviations and acronyms are, plus provide examples and a short quote that can help you remember their difference.

Abbreviation vs acronym. Learn what these terms mean.
An “acronym” is a type of “abbreviation.”
What’s the Difference Between an Abbreviation and an Acronym?

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word, like Dr. for doctor or Jan. for January. An acronym is a shortened word of a phrase made up of the initial letters, and is pronounced as a single word, such as laser for light amplification (by) stimulated emission (of) radiation.

If you’re wondering what the difference is between an abbreviation and an acronym, you’re not alone. Before we dive into what these two are, we’ll give you this epigram:

All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.

What Is an Abbreviation?

Abbreviation is the umbrella term for a handful of different types of shortened words and phrases like acronyms and initialisms, which we’ll elaborate on later.

There are a few ways abbreviations can be made: you can use only the first few letters, and omit the rest, like in cont. instead of continued or Dec. instead of December. Sometimes the middle of the word is omitted instead, like when using Mr. in place of mister. What you may have noticed with these examples is that even though the word is shortened, there’s no change in how it’s pronounced.

A few more examples of abbreviations are:

Ave. (Avenue)
Etc. (Etcetera)
St. (Street)
Atty. (Attorney)
Govt. (Government)
What is the difference between acronym and abbreviation?
Remember: There are many different types of abbreviations.
Please Note

Many abbreviations in American English include a period, regardless of which letters are used (like Dr., Mr., and Ms.). However, in British English, the abbreviations formed with the first and last letter of a word have the periods (or full stops) omitted.

If you’re not familiar with abbreviations and are not sure whether to use periods, LanguageTool—a spelling and grammar checker that supports multiple languages and dialects—can help you. In addition, this advanced text editor can enhance your style and tone by rephrasing your sentences.

What Is an Acronym?

An acronym is a shortened form of a phrase. It’s formed by using the first letters of the words that make up the phrase. Consider the following examples:

NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Radar = Radio Detecting and Ranging
Scuba = Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
PIN = Personal Identification Number
Sonar = Sound Navigation and Ranging

With acronyms, the shortened phrase creates a new word. In other words, the letters aren’t pronounced individually but are pronounced as a whole.

What About Initialisms?

An initialism is another type of abbreviation. It’s similar to an acronym in that it’s formed by using the first letters of a word (VIP, for example, stands for very important person). However, with an initialism, the letters are pronounced distinctly, unlike with acronyms, in which a word is pronounced as a whole. A few more examples of initialisms are FBI, DVD, ATM, and RSVP.

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Abbreviations are a major part of the English language, especially considering all the ones used for “internet lingo.” Remember, because abbreviation is an umbrella term, you wouldn’t technically be wrong to say that words like PIN and laser are abbreviations.

But if you want to be as precise as possible, keep in mind that the difference between abbreviations and acronyms is that abbreviations are considered shortened forms of a word; acronyms are shortened forms of a phrase that make up a new word.

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