How to Write Abbreviations

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Abbreviations are commonly used in both formal and informal writing. In this lesson, we will focus on the appropriate use of abbreviations for formal, academic writing.


Sometimes you don't want to go to all the trouble to write out a word. Maybe you're texting, or creating a table in Excel, or referring to a word over and over in an article. In these cases, you'll want to abbreviate.

Abbreviations are condensed versions of words. For example, instead of writing out the word 'Sunday,' there are times when it is appropriate to write the abbreviated form 'Sun.' Style guides vary somewhat, so if your teacher states a preference, be sure to consult your style guide when determining whether or not to abbreviate. Let's look at some generic rules for abbreviating in formal writing.

Indefinite Articles

Indefinite articles are the words 'a' and 'an.' Before introducing a word, if the word begins with a vowel, 'an' is used. If the word begins with a consonant, 'a' is used. This applies to abbreviations too.

For example:

  • Today feels like a Mon.
  • The storm came on an Oct. night.

However, there is a big difference. When an indefinite article precedes an abbreviation with the vowel sound, 'an' is used. When the indefinite article precedes a consonant sound, 'a' is used. Therefore, sometimes, even though a consonant starts the abbreviation out, it actually has a vowel sound. This is more often true in acronyms, but say you want to abbreviate the word 'hour' to 'hr.' 'Hour' starts with a consonant but has the vowel sound 'O'. Therefore you would use the indefinite article 'an', as in 'miles an hr.'


An abbreviation that is comprised of the first and last letters of the word, such as 'Mr.' (mister) is abbreviated with a period at the end. If the abbreviation comes at the end of a sentence, there is only one period that represents both the abbreviation and the end of the sentence. This can often be the case with the abbreviation 'Jr.' (junior).

For example:

  • Sandy named her son, Mr. Robert Lott, Jr.


'Miss' and 'Ms.' are not abbreviations, yet it is conventional to place a period at the end of 'Ms.' Some common titles that are abbreviated include:

Mister, Master Mr.
Missus, Mistress Mrs.
Doctor Dr.
General Gen.
Representative Rep.
Senator Sen.
Saint St.
Senior Sr.
Junior Jr.
Doctor of Philosophy Ph.D.
Medical Doctor M.D.
Doctor of Dental Surgery D.D.S
Master's degree M.A., M.Ed., M.S
Bachelor's degree B.A., B.S.

The plural form of Mr. is Messrs.; Dr. is Drs.; and Mrs. is Mmes.

For example:

  • Messrs. Amendt, Sissons, and Pyle have been invited to speak at the seminar.
  • Mmes. Ward, Klinck, and Lott have declined the offer to present.
  • Drs. Kevala and Petray will be sending some literature.

Only one title should be used per name, the only exception being if the person's name ends with Jr., Sr., or III and that person has a preference. If the preference is unknown, the ending title should be omitted.

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