Formatting Tip: Abbreviations

Posted December 10, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Formatting Tips, Self-Editing, Writing

I know…this is a long ‘un, and abbreviations are critical in writing. There are so many rules! There can be some crossover with acronyms and initialisms, and between them, you should be able to work it out. Do check out the section on addresses as authors tend to get this one wrong rather frequently.

There are some good tips on the use of that pesky AD and BCE as well as the weirdness of the honorable and reverend. I find the section on plants to be very handy as I can never keep them straight!

As a warning, this is NOT in any way, shape, or form a complete list. It’s merely a start. I keep adding to it as I have my own questions when I’m either editing someone’s manuscript or reports or reviewing a book.

Formatting Tips started…

…as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with words that should have been capitalized or italicized, in quotes or not, what should be spelled out and what can be abbreviated, proper styling for the Latin names of plants, the proper formatting and usage of titles and more in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this style tip with friends by tweeting it.

Formatting: Ave. – avenue
B.A. – Bachelor of Arts
B.S. – Bachelor of Science
no. – number
Ph.D. – doctor of philosophy
Definition: A shortened form of a word or words.
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Month mo.

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Abbreviate Don’t Abbreviate
With a date:
Abbreviate ONLY Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec., i.e., Dec. 25
Never abbreviate months that don’t have a date:
I feel as if we missed April!

Never abbreviate:
March, April, May, June, or July.

With a year only:
Spell the entire month out, i.e., December 2014

Jan. Jan Ja May May My Sept. Sep S
Feb. Feb F June Jun Je Oct. Oct O
Mar. Mar Mr July Jul Jl Nov. Nov N
Apr. Apr Ap Aug. Aug Ag Dec. Dec D
Abbreviate Don’t Abbreviate
Jan., Feb., Mar., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. April, May, June, or July.
Week wk.

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Abbreviate Don’t Abbreviate
Never abbreviate week.

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Abbreviate Don’t Abbreviate
Abbreviate ONLY if being used with tabular data.
Never abbreviate days.
Sun. Sun Su Wed. Wed W Fri. Fri F
Mon. Mon M Thurs. Thurs Th Sat. Sat Sa
Tues. Tues Tu
Year yr.

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Abbreviate Don’t Abbreviate
Never abbreviate year
Century cent. = century
A.D., B.C., B.C.E., C.E. Rules: Always, always, always capitalize the AD, BC, BCE, or CE.

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The periods:
Use the periods. Or not. Just be consistent in whichever you choose.

Yes, the size is an issue, if you’re a staunch traditionalist. Practice has used a smaller font size for the AD or BC. Consistency is the key.

AD 1868
45 BC

At one point in history, the English decided to clean up their grammar and spelling and bring order. As they were enamored of Latin at the time, they followed Latin rules as closely as possible. Since A.D. was of Latin origin, they placed the A.D. in front of the year, i.e., AD 1640, AD 2019, AD 3. Since B.C. is not of Latin origin, the English slipped B.C. in behind the year, i.e., 33 BC, 190 BC, 1 BC (Wikipedia).

Because we’re lazy buggers, usage is beginning to shove the AD behind the year.

Whichever you choose, be consistent.

Before Christ, a.k.a., BC or B.C. Anno Domini, a.k.a., AD or A.D.
Before Common/Christian/Current Era,
a.k.a., BCE or B.C.E.
Common/Christian/Current Era,
a.k.a., CE or C.E.
Definition: Designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars. This dating system was devised in 525, but was not widely used until after 800 (Wikipedia).
Before Christ, BC, denotes the years before the start of the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no year zero in this scheme, so the year AD 1 immediately follows the year 1 BC. Anno Domini is Medieval Latin, translated as In the year of the Lord, and as in the year of Our Lord, and is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus of Nazareth, with AD counting years from the start of this epoch.
As part of the politically correct movement, there is an effort to deflect AD or BC into a more religious-neutral usage. Although how that’s supposed to happen when Christian is still part of the mix, I dunno… Then again, its usage is dependent upon when scholars originally believed Christ was born.
Other Designations for Years NOTE: Some other sciences and religions use a different designation for years.

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Year Designation Abbrev. Defined
Years Before the Present BP Used by archeologists to refer to radiocarbon dates with the base year set as 1950.
Anno Hegirae AH Used by Muslims beginning in AD 622 when the Islamic Prophet Muhammed left his birthplace of Mecca to go to the city of Yathrib, where he established the first capital of the new Islamic religion, renaming it al-Medina (
Calibrated Years Before the Present cal BP
cal yr. BP
Cal BP
Uses tree rings to get around the inconsistencies in radiocarbon dating.
There are tons more abbreviations to refer to calibrated years before the present, including:
C14 ka BP14C ka BP CYBP
rcbp radiocarbon years
c14 years before the present
carbon-14 years before the present
Buddha Era BE Begin with the traditional date of the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana Death that is traditionally believed to have occurred in 543 BCE (Astral Traveler).
million years ago mya Used by archeologists.
Citation Rules: Use arabic numerals except for front matter pages which use lowercase roman numerals. Uppercase roman numerals may be used to help distinguish between complex divisions.

Set abbreviations in lowercase roman, end with a period, and do not use italics.

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Partial List of Common Citation Abbreviations
Word Singular Plural
appendix app. apps.
book bk. bks.
chapter c. (used in law citations)
and following ƒ ƒƒ
figure fig. figs.
map map maps
note n (used when no number follows)
no date n.d.
number no. nos.
no page n.p.
no pagination n. pag. plural
no place n.p.
no publisher n.p.
page p. pp.
part pt. pts.
plate plate plates
section sec. secs.
table table tables
volume vol. vols.
Pages p.; Plural: pp.

Rule: If it’s obvious that the numerals are a range of pages, p. and pp. are not necessary. If you’ve been using them, keep using them (Chicago, 17.134).

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You can find the clue on pp. 78–82.

You can find the clue in Foxglove Summer on 78–82.

ƒƒ. Definition: Abbreviation for the Latin, folio meaning, in this case, and following (a range of pages, paragraphs, chapters, etc.) is used to refer to the next page or pages in a citation. It’s a type of locating information when no ending page can be found. You cannot simply resort to this. You must make a concerted effort to find that final page number.

Rule: In citation, use it to refer to a section for which no final number can usefully be given. If there is only one section following the first number, use ƒ. If there are several sections following, use ƒƒ.

Form: ##ƒ. OR ##ƒƒ.

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349ƒ. = pages 349 to 350
349ƒƒ. = pages 349 to ???
Volume vol.

Rule: When a volume number is immediately followed by page numbers, neither is necessary AND a colon must be used to separate volume from pages (Chicago, 17.134).

Form: vol.:pages

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Swisher, An Analysis of Dante’s Bocaccio 2:211.

Encyclopædia Britannica, 32-vol.

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Abbreviate Don’t Abbreviate
Associated Press Stylebook,
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage

U.S. (periods, no space)
US (this was a recent change from U.S.)
Eng. England
It. Italy
US United States
Ger. Germany
State (in the U.S.)

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Prefers the old-style two-, three-, four-, and five-letter abbreviations for U.S. states with only an initial cap:
Ala., Calif., Colo., Okla., S.C., etc.

When used with the name of a city:
Cape Lookout, N.C., was hit by a hurricane last night.

The wildfire began in California and moved east toward Carson City, Nev.

Never abbreviate:
Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah

Never abbreviate the state when used alone:
North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Arthur in July 2014.

Use the two-letter postal codes:
CA, AL, MT, WI, NY, etc.
Use the two-letter postal codes:
CA, AL, MT, WI, NY, etc.
County, Province

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Use the two-letter postal codes for abbreviating the names of provinces:
ABBC, MB, ON, QC, etc.
Street Address Rule: Avenue, boulevard, drive, and street are abbreviated only when used with a numbered address.

See capitalizing street directions or using numbers with street addresses for additional formatting tips on street addresses.

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Use Abbrev. Spell It Out
She lives at 405 Main St.

She lives over on Main Street.

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A numbered address always:

  • Abbreviates and caps the compass point: north, south, east, and west
  • Abbreviates and caps street, avenue, or boulevard
  • Does not use a comma in addresses
Street names from First through Ninth are always spelled out and always capitalized.

Spell out and cap alley, drive, road, etc.

The haberdashery is located at 3809 W. Main St.

The fire was at the corner of Ninth and West Main, but the water main broke at 14th and South Oak.

Send the bill to 4115 W. Fourth Ave.

The parade will head down the boulevard.

She lives over on Tree Alley.

I think he said the address was 113493 Handsdown Drive.

There is no such address as 718 S. Fifth St!

Ave., Bldg., Blvd. , Ct., Dr., Expy., Hwy., La., Pkwy., Pl., POB, PO Box, Rd., Rm., RR, Rt., Rte., Sq., St., Ste., Terr.

Never abbreviate a compass point that is the street name or part of the street name.

When a street name is used alone, spell it out.

We’ll have to go over to 135th Avenue.

The menswear store is over on Forty-fifth.

Did you say it was on Ninety-ninth?

The parade will head down the boulevard.

It’s at the end of the court.

No, I’m sure she said Southern Avenue.

HONORIFIC Credit to: Skillin, 117-120
Personal Honorific Rule: See Capitalization for rules on this.

NOTE: Most Commonwealth countries don’t use the period.

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Full Honorific Full Plural Abbrev. Honorific Abbrev. Plural
Mister Misters Mr. Messrs.
Mistress Mesdames Mrs. Mmes.
Missus is dialectical for Mistress — and a lot easier to use as a title alone in a sentence!
Ms. Mses.
Miss Misses
Master Masters Mstr. Mstrs.
(this one is rarely used)
Rule: Using in the second person, abbreviate it or spell it out, although it’s rare to spell Mistress in full unless it’s an historic usage.
Hey, Mr. Gordon, you dropped your wallet!

Mrs. Smith is here to see you, Miss Jones.

Missus? The doctor will see you now.

It’s good to see you again, Miss Chalmers.

Rule: Using in the fourth person, use the abbreviation and capitalize it.
I saw Mr. Henry leave at noon.

Where did Mrs. Rumbleton go?

Will you bring Ms. Henley in, Mary?

Rule: Using the title alone without a person’s name, spell it out and use lowercase.
Look out for that car, mister!

I gotta bring the missus some flowers tonight.

It’s good to see you again, miss.

She’s a cute little miss.

The young master got in trouble at school again.

Foreign Personal Honorific Rule: See Capitalization for rules on this.
French NOTE: Some publishers skip the period after Mme and Mlle, but keep the period with M.; most American publishers keep the period for all.
Full Honorific Full Plural Abbrev. Honorific Abbrev. Plural
Messieurs M. Messrs.
Madame Mesdames Mme. Mmes.
Mademoiselle Mademoiselles
Mlle. Mlles.
Rule: Using in the second person, spell it out.
Monsieur D’Artagnan, are you one of the king’s musketeers?

Madame de Pompadour, you look lovely tonight.

Mademoiselle Lily, you make the most beautiful hats!

Rule: Using in the fourth person, abbreviate before the name(s).
M. D’Artagnan is one of Dumas’ Three Musketeers.

Mme. de Pompadour was a mistress of King Louis XV.

Mlle. Lily is a modiste of the first order.

Rule: Using the title alone without a person’s name, spell it out and use lowercase.
I believe monsieur is one of the king’s musketeers.

Has anyone seen madame?

The mademoiselle makes fashionable hats.

Italian Rule: See the rules for abbreviating the French titles.
Full Honorific Full Plural Abbrev. Honorific Abbrev. Plural
Signor Signori Sig. Sigg.
Signora Signore Sig.ra
Signorina Signorine

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English Full Honorific Full Plural Abbrev. Honorific Abbrev. Plural
Mister señor señores Sr. Sres.
Mrs. señora señoras Sra. Sras.
Miss señorita señoritas Srta.
sir Don Dons D.
lady Doña Doñas Da
Rule: When making a general reference, use the definite article.
Full Honorific with Article Full Plural with Article
el señor los señores
la señora las señoras
la señorita las señoritas
Rule: Using in the second person, spell it out.
Señor Molina, are you coming to the book signing today?

I have brought you the blue you wanted, señora Kahlo.

Wait, Srita. Villegas, it’s raining outside.

Rule: Using in the fourth person, include the definite article and abbreviate before the name(s).
Winter in Lisbon is considered one of el señor Antonio Molina’s best works.

La señora Frida Kahlo is a famous artist from Mexico.

Known for singing American R&B, la señorita Jasmine Villegas is also referred to as Jasmine V.

Rule: Using the title alone without a person’s name, spell it out and use lowercase.
El señor is coming to the book signing today

La señora has run out of the blue she likes.

Las señoritas should take their umbrellas today; it’s raining outside.

Professional Title Rule: When using within general text, spell it out. An exception would be for tabular matter. Never abbreviate when used with only the surname.

See Capitalization for rules on this.

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Gen. George Washington OR General Washington

Pres. Andrew Johnson OR President Johnson.

Honorable, Reverend Definition: Technically, both are adjectives.
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the Honorable C.S. Lewis
the Reverend F.R. Brimstone
Rule: You may abbreviate when NOT using the.
Hon. C.S. Lewis
Rev. F.R. Brimstone

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Only abbreviate * units of measurement or statistical abbreviations if accompanied by numerical values:

  • 7 mg
  • 12 mi
  • M = 7.5

You may have noticed there are no periods after the units of measurement. The one exception is inches, always use a period after in. to avoid confusion with in.

* The general rule for writing out the full term followed by () for the abbreviation is not required for units of measurement.

Do not use periods after abbreviated units of measurement:

  • mph
  • ns
  • os
  • rpm

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Always use periods and spaces for a person’s initials:
George R. R. Martin, G. A. Aiken, J. R. R. Tolkien, or J. D. Robb

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Rule: The abbreviations f., hyb., sp., spp., and subsp. are never capitalized, italicized, or underlined.

See Genera and Species regarding rules of italicization.

  • f. is family
  • hyb is used the same way as sp., but for a plant of hybrid origin for which the cultivar is unknown
  • sp. means the specific epithet of a particular species is unknown or unspecified
  • spp. refers to more than one species within a genus, known or unknown. It does not refer to more than one plant of a single species.
  • subsp. is subspecies
Rule: Similar to acronyms and initialisms, “when a plant is first mentioned, the entire botanical name must be listed (Herb Society).
Rule: A cultivar is treated as:
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ can be shortened to L. angustifolia ‘Munstead’ after the first mention, or even just to ‘Munstead’.

In the same article, another cultivar of Lavandula angustifolia can be referred to as L. angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ upon first mention and after that as just ‘Hidcote’.

Rule: A variety or specific epithet must never stand alone:
Salvia leucantha blooms late in the summer, and so does Salvia elegans.

The flowers of S. leucantha are vivid purple while those of S. elegans are red.


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As in Measurement, periods are NOT used with time abbreviations:

  • hr
  • om
  • s
  • ms

CAUTION: Never even think of trying to pluralize measurements!


  • sec.
  • min.
  • hr.
  • a.m.
  • p.m.
  • noon = 12:00 p.m.
  • midnight = 12:00 a.m.

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ALL CAPS Exceptions
Do not use periods or spaces:

  • APA
  • CD
  • DVD
  • HTML
Do Not use United States as an adjective; use U.S. instead:

  • U.S. Marines
  • U.S. Senator

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lowercase Exceptions
If the abbreviation ends in a lowercase letter, use a period:

  • assn.
  • conf.
  • Eng.
  • esp.

Degree names do not use a period:

  • Phd
  • EdD
  • PsyD
Internet suffix uses a period before the abbreviation:

  • .com
  • .edu
  • .gov
Latin Abbreviation

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lowercase Exceptions
If using a Latin or reference abbreviation, use a period:

  • etc.
  • e.g.
  • a.m.
  • Vol. 7
  • p. 12, 4th ed.

Letters which represent a word in a common lowercase abbreviation:
a.m. ante meridiem
e.g. exempli gratia
i.e. id est
Pluralizing Abbreviations

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Word Singular Plural
manuscript MS MSS
note n. nn.
pages p. pp.
APA Rule: Do NOT use an apostrophe or italicize the s to form a plural of an abbreviation.

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