• Galina Blankenship

Separated by a Common Language: British vs. American English (Abbreviations)

The Proscribed Royalist is a painting by John Everett Millais.
The Proscribed Royalist by John Everett Millais

Punctuation: Abbreviations

The British English (BrE) and the American English (AmE) mainly differ in the ways they format abbreviations and quotations. Moreover, BrE does not share fondness for the Oxford comma despite its distinctively British name.

Strictly speaking, there are five types of abbreviations:

1. Abbreviations

They are formed by omitting the end of a word:

Professor Prof. paragraph para.

In both BrE and AmE a period (full stop) should be placed to indicate the abbreviation:


2. Contractions

Contractions are formed by omitting the middle of a word. There are two types of contractions:

  • Contractions formed without apostrophes:

Mister Mr Doctor Dr

BrE and AmE mainly diverge in the formatting styles of contractions/abbreviations. While the British English correctly formats these "abbreviations" as contractions, the American English conveniently treats them as abbreviations.

Americans tend to place periods after contractions to make sure they are not mistaken for regular words. They basically treat them as abbreviations. Brits, however, want to be consistent: If a contraction ends with the same letter as the original word, no a period (full stop) should be used:

There are, however, some exceptions:

  • Contractions formed with apostrophes in both British and American English:

cannot can't is not isn't do not don't I have I’ve we are we’re


3. Acronyms

Acronyms are formed from the initial letters of words and pronounced as words themselves, so no periods should intervene between the letters:




4. Initialisms

Initialisms are formed from the initial letters of words but are not pronounced as words.

  • Uppercase Initialisms:

In AmE, two-letter initialisms often take periods:

However, three-letter initialisms are generally written without periods:

In AmE, some 2-, 3-, and 4-letter initialisms may be written with periods (mostly in news and sometimes academic papers):

The AA initialism never takes periods:

  • Academic Degrees:

BrE and AmE also differ in their punctuation of the shortened forms of academic degrees:

  • Lowercase Latin (and Other) Initialisms:

A number of commonly used lowercase initialisms of Latin terms usually take periods in both BrE and AmE:

With these ones, some variations may take place:

Some exceptions:

Initialisms of measurements never take periods:

In addition to Latin, some measurements still used in AmE are from Ancient Roman:

BUT: Place a period after in. (inches) so that to prevent confusion with the preposition in (in the school).


5. Clippings

Clippings are acronyms that have become lexicalized as common words. They are formed by retaining at least one syllable of the original word. To maintain the readability of the acronyms-clippings, no periods are used in either BrE or AmE:

Drawing of a flower