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As far as I can tell there are eight ways to abbreviate or write the contracted form "government".

  1. gov or Gov
  2. gov. or Gov.
  3. gov't or Gov't
  4. govt. or Govt. (with the full stop/period)

Are any of these forms considered incorrect?

In formal writing I know it is never advisable to write contractions but I imagine there must be exceptions to the rule, consequently which is the preferred version? Is there a rule which explains how polysyllabic words ought to be contracted?


Edit April 5th 2014
I did a little research on Google Ngram Viewer, comparing Govt/govt with Gov/gov (Google Ngram appears to be unreliable with apostrophes and the period/full stop) and came up with these two.

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All. Depends on exact implication desired, context, domain, even geography. abbreviations.com/abbreviations/GO/30 abbreviations.com/GOV allacronyms.com/GOVT/Government/106826 –  Kris Aug 6 '13 at 5:55
    
@Kris When you say "all" do you mean they are all acceptable forms of abbreviating government? Then, how do I know when to use which? I think ".gov" is preferable for domains, but I'm muddled about the rest. –  Mari-Lou A Aug 6 '13 at 5:59
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Yes, they are all acceptable forms of abbreviating government -- it depends. gov is used as TLD and sometimes in media headlines (Gov Relaxes Rules), govt. and gov't. are the more common abbreviations in general English usage. The period (full stop) is always there. Capitalization depends on context. This may help: books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Kris Aug 6 '13 at 6:05
    
Couldn't you write this as an answer? –  Mari-Lou A Aug 6 '13 at 6:11
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@BraddSzonye I wonder what a period has got to do with the presence or otherwise of an apostrophe. Are they such bitter rivals? :) –  Kris Aug 6 '13 at 6:18
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Almost all of the reference books I consulted note that gov (or gov.) can be an abbreviation either for government or for governor. In the United States at least, that dual meaning can lead to problems of ambiguity: many U.S. readers are likely to interpret the Gov in a headline such as "Gov Relaxes Rules" as being short for Governor [of the state where the newspaper is published]. For that reason, in the United States, including the final t is a sensible practice.

None of the various sources I consulted recommend the abbreviation gov't; instead, they divide their preference between govt. (with a period) and govt (without one).

Proponents of govt. (with a period) include The Random House College Dictionary (1984), which actually prefers Govt. but includes govt. as an alternative; the Facts on File Concise Dictionary of Acronyms and Initialisms (1988); Encarta World English Dictionary (1999), Webster's II New College Dictionary (1999), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000), and The New Oxford American Dictionary (2001).

Proponents of govt (without a period) include Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (2003) and The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Tenth Edition (2002).

The modern legitimacy of both govt. and govt is well established by these sources. Nevertheless, my favorite bit of style advice on the subject is this from The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual (1994):

government Always lowercase, never abbreviate: the federal government, the state government, the U.S. government.

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Thanks for the heads-up, Mari-Lou A; I deleted the now-obsolete final paragraph of my answer. Just to reiterate a point I touched on early in my answer, in U.S. results (at least) any comparison of gov vs. govt as an abbreviation for government is likely to be skewed in search engine results by the fact that, wheres govt is short only for government, gov may be short for government or governor. –  Sven Yargs Apr 7 at 20:16
    
Sadly, I realized that but I don't know how to exclude governor from the results. I suppose there isn't a way. –  Mari-Lou A Apr 7 at 20:20
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Domains

.gov is the domain for the US government.
.gov.uk is the domain for the UK government.

Commenting that something "is preferable for domains" seems inappropriate, because the domains have already been determined and it's merely a case of using what exists. Preference does not come into it.

Capitalisation

My choice of whether to capitalise the initial letter of the abbreviation would exactly follow whether I would capitalise the initial letter of the full word in the respective context.

A domain name extension would, of course, never be capitalised.

[The comments below apply equally to capitalised and non-capitalised versions of the respective abbreviations.]

Period

I have always understood that conventional practice on whether to include a period at the end of an abbreviation is to include one if the last letter of the full word is not present in the abbreviation, and not to include one if it is present.

Hence I would omit it from Gov't and Govt,
but include a period in Gov..

Apostrophe

I doubt that there is any standard on whether to include an apostrophe in the abbreviation Gov't, nor any consistency within any particular government, let alone within governments from different English-speaking countries.

My personal preference is normally to include one.

t or no t

Although I don't have anything off-hand to back this up, I would suggest that inclusion of the t is possibly more common (in the UK), and that the abbreviation gov. without the t has become more prevalent from its usage as domain name extensions.

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So, you would never capitalize the abbreviation in the middle of a sentence because government is not a proper noun. Correct? –  Mari-Lou A Aug 6 '13 at 10:34
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Probably not, unless it were being used as part of a formal name or naming a specific government, e.g. the British Government. I'm not always consistent, but I tend to prefer to avoid over-capitalisation. And then I would probably spell out the whole word, rather than abbreviate it (except in, say, an informal e-mail). –  TrevorD Aug 6 '13 at 10:47
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I believe the rule for periods is different in the US and UK. In AmE we usually use a period even with the final letter. So we write Mr. and dr. rather than Mr and dr, for example. Also, here Gov. is used more for Governor than government. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 6 '13 at 18:32
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I think Govt. is more appropriate. There is a scale to denote the justice or balance or end.

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