Blog de Comunicación Académica

Técnicas de comunicación académica en español e inglés como lenguas extranjeras

RSVP ASAP – dealing with common abbreviations in English

In English, there are many standard abbreviations and acronyms that can cause problems for non-native English users. In general, they are not common in formal academic writing, where it is only considered correct to use a few standard abbreviations such as:

e.g. (exempli gratia), which is read as “for example”
i.e. (id est), which is read as “that is”
etc. (et cetera), which is read as “et cetera”

However, abbreviations are extremely frequent in business correspondence and informal communication. If you often receive e-mails in English, you will soon become familiar with the most common ones, such as:

asap, or a.s.a.p., which stands for “as soon as possible”
foa, or f.o.a., which stands for “for the attention of”
fyi, or f.y.i., which stands for “for your information”

Other curious examples that are frequently encountered are:

RSVP or R.S.V.P., used on formal invitations, which means “répondez s’il vous plaît”, that is, “please reply”.
PTO or P.T.O., on documents, which means “please turn over”, in other words, the text continues on the other side of the page.

There are also many job titles, roles and qualifications which are commonly abbreviated:

CEO Chief Executive Officer
MP Member of Parliament
PM Prime Minister
MD Doctor of Medicine
PhD Doctor of Philosophy

Abbreviations are even more frequent in the case of text messages. A whole set of conventionalized short forms has developed so that people can communicate their ideas in just a few letters. This new range of abbreviated forms tends to be humorous or disrespectful in tone, and includes examples like:

LOL lots of love / laughing out loud
SWYP so what’s your problem?
TIME tears in my eyes
GR8 great!

One problem that abbreviations and acronyms pose for writers is the question as to whether or not to put a full stop after the letter. Should we write “NATO” or “N.A.T.O.”? The answer is to be found in the style sheet of the journal or publisher in question. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends not using full stops in the case of acronyms, so “NATO” would be preferred, but some more traditional systems require the use of the full stop after every letter. On the other hand, it is standard practice in the USA to use full stops for many other shortened forms, such as “Mr.”, “Dr.” or “Jr.”. In British English, these short forms do not take a full stop, because they are strictly speaking not abbreviations (truncated words) but contractions (words with the middle taken out), and so in the UK it is normal to write “Mr” or “Dr”.

For a long list of abbreviations with their explanations, see: