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10 Abbreviations and symbols

10.2 Punctuation and typography

10.2.1 Full points?

Traditionally, abbreviations end in full points while contractions do not, so that we have Jun. and Jr for Junior, and Rev. and Revd for Reverend. This rule is handy and in general is borne out, although there are some exceptions: for example St. (= Street) is often written with a point to avoid confusion with St for Saint, and no. (= numero, Latin for number). Note that everyday titles such as Mr, Mrs, and Dr, being contractions, are written without a point, as is Ltd; editors need not attempt to establish how a particular company styles Ltd in its name. US style uses more points than British style does, even with contractions, thus giving Jr. instead of Jr (no point). (See 6.1.3.)

A problem can arise with plural forms of abbreviations such as vol. (volume) or ch. (chapter): these would strictly be vols and chs, which are contractions and should not end with a point. However, this can lead to the inconsistent-looking juxtaposition of vol. and vols or ch. and chs, and so in some styles full points are retained for all such short forms. Similarly, Bros, the plural form of Bro. ‘brother’, is often written with a point.

Technical and scientific writing uses less punctuation than non-technical English. Metric abbreviations such as m (metre), km (kilometre), and g (gram) do not usually have a full point, and never do in scientific or technical writing. Purely scientific abbreviations (bps = bits per second; mRNA = messenger ribonucleic acid) are presented without full points.

There are other exceptions to the principle that abbreviations have full points. For example, abbreviations for eras, such as ad and bc (traditionally written in small capitals), have no points. Arabic and Roman ordinal numbers take no points (1st, 2nd, 3rd); similarly, monetary amounts (£6 m, 50p) and book sizes (4to, 8vo, 12mo) do not have points. Note also that there are no points in colloquial abbreviations that have become established words in their own right, such as demo (demonstration) or trad (traditional).

If an abbreviation ends with a full point but does not end the sentence, other punctuation follows naturally: Gill & Co., Oxford. If the full point of the abbreviation ends the sentence, however, there is no second full point: Oxford’s Gill & Co.

10.2.2 Ampersands

Avoid ampersands except in established combinations (e.g. R & B, T & C) and in names of firms that use them (M&S, Mills & Boon). There should be spaces around the ampersand except in company names such as M&S that are so styled; in journalism ordinary combinations such as R&B are frequently written with no spaces.

10.2.3 Apostrophes

Place the apostrophe in the position corresponding to the missing letter or letters (fo’c’s’le, ha’p’orth, sou’wester, t’other), but note that shan’t has only one apostrophe. Informal contractions such as I’m, can’t, it’s, mustn’t, and he’ll are perfectly acceptable in less formal writing, especially fiction and reported speech, and are sometimes found even in academic works. However, editors should not impose them except to maintain consistency within a varying text.

There are no apostrophes in colloquial abbreviations that have become standard words in the language, such as cello, flu, phone, or plane. Retain the original apostrophe only when archaism is intentional, or when it is necessary to reproduce older copy precisely. Old-fashioned or literary abbreviated forms such as ’tis, ’twas, and ’twixt do need an opening apostrophe, however: make sure that it is set the right way round, and not as an opening quotation mark.

10.2.4 All-capital abbreviations

Abbreviations of a single capital letter normally take full points (G. Lane, Oxford U.) except when used as symbols (see 10.3 below); abbreviated single-letter compass directions have no points, however: N, S, E, W.

Acronyms or initialisms of more than one capital letter take no full points in British and technical usage, and are closed up:

TUC

MA

EU

NE

SW

QC

DFC

In some US styles certain initialisms may have full points (US/U.S.). In some house styles any all-capital proper-name acronym that may be pronounced as a word is written with a single initial capital, giving Basic, Unesco, Unicef, etc.; some styles dictate that an acronym is written thus if it exceeds a certain number of letters (often four). Editors should avoid this rule, useful though it is, where the result runs against the common practice of a discipline or where similar terms would be treated dissimilarly based on length alone.

Where a text is rife with full-capital abbreviations, they can be set all in small capitals to avoid the jarring look of having too many capitals on the printed page. Some abbreviations (e.g. bc, ad) are always set in small capitals (see 7.5.2).

For treatment of personal initials see 6.1.1; for postcodes and zip codes see 6.2.4.

10.2.5 Lower-case abbreviations

Lower-case abbreviations are usually written with no points (mph, plc), especially in scientific contexts.

In running text lower-case abbreviations cannot begin a sentence in their abbreviated form. In notes, however, a group of exceptions may be allowed: c., e.g., i.e., l., ll., p., pp. are lower case even at the beginning of a note.

Write a.m. and p.m. in lower case, with two points; use them only with figures, and never with o’clock. see 11.3 for more on times of day.

Short forms of weights and measures are generally not written with a point, with the exception of forms such as gal. (gallon) and in. (inch) that are not in technical use:

oz

lb

g

dwt

pt

qt

ft

m (miles or metres)

Note that min., and sec. have a point in general contexts but are not used in scientific work.

When an abbreviated unit is used with a number there is usually a space between them (see 14.1.4):

a unit of weight equal to 2,240 lb avoirdupois (1016.05 kg)

10.2.6 Upper- and lower-case abbreviations

Contracted titles and components of names do not require a full point:

Dr

Mr

Mrs

Ms

Mme

Mlle

Ft (= Fort)

Mt (= Mount)

St. meaning ‘street’ is traditionally written with a point to distinguish it from St meaning ‘saint’.

Shortened forms of academic degree are usually written without punctuation (PhD, MLitt). For plurals, see 10.5.

British counties with abbreviated forms take a full point (Berks., Yorks.), with the traditional exceptions Hants, Northants, and Oxon, whose abbreviations were derived originally from older spellings or Latin forms.

Names of days and months should generally be shown in full, but where necessary, as in notes and to save space, they are abbreviated thus:

Sun.

Mon.

Tue.

Wed.

Thur.

Fri.

Sat.

Jan.

Feb.

Mar.

Apr.

May

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

Nov.

Dec.

10.2.7 Work titles

Italic text (e.g. titles of books, plays, and journals) usually produces italic abbreviations:

DNB (Dictionary of National Biography)
Arist. Metaph. (Aristotle’s Metaphysics)

Follow the forms familiar in a given discipline; even then permutations can exist, often depending on the space available or on whether the abbreviation is destined for running text or a note.

For legal references see Chapter 13.

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Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms