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What is the correct abbreviation for the words numbers and number?

  • Nos.
  • No.
  • Nos
  • No

Possible example usage:

  1. "Number of guests" where the word number is abbreviated
  2. "Numbers 10–15 are located in the top shelf."
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6  
The shortest expression is just #. –  onomatomaniak Sep 24 '11 at 6:22
    
Sometimes there is a separate abbreviation for it... № –  GEdgar Sep 24 '11 at 17:18
    
Does anyone find it odd when an abbreviation includes one or more letters that do not appear in the word being abbreviated? –  user45992 Jun 13 '13 at 13:07
1  
@onomatomaniak The hash sign # is not a common or standard indication for 'number' in the UK. I do not know whether it is used in other English-speaking countries outside the US. –  TrevorD Aug 13 '13 at 22:58
1  
@user45992 I believe the 'o' in the abbreviation for 'number' comes from 'numero' (or a similar foreign word). lb & oz also include letters not in the corresponding English word. And where does the $ symbol come from - no 'S' in dollar. –  TrevorD Aug 13 '13 at 23:01

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

It is highly unlikely that there is a global standard. It differs based on practice and the standards set by the relevant authorities (publishers and the like).

Ex: The Oxford Journal Instructions for Authors suggests (Sec. 2.3):

Abbreviations where the last letter of the singular word is not included take a full stop (vol., vols./ed., eds.). The abbreviation for number is no./nos. Abbreviated unit of measurements do not take a full stop (lb, mm, kg) and do not take a final 's' in the plural.

This is a suggestion from Cambridge Dictionary for use of no. as the abbreviation for number.

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But no. is surely the abbreviation for "number" and nos. is the abbreviation for "numbers" in the Oxford Instructions. The "do not take a final 's' in the plural" only applies to lb, mm, kg, and so forth, and is irrelevant to this question. –  Peter Shor Sep 24 '11 at 17:59
1  
Both Oxford and Cambridge links explain the usage for "Client No. 5" but I don't see an answer for the case "Number of guests". Anyone have an answer to that one? –  Marcel Gosselin Mar 13 '12 at 17:15

Cambridge dictionary only gives the abbreviation no. when number refers to a numeral, a position or identification, not a quantity, amount or calculation : http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/number_1

Therefore I understand "Number of guests" should not be abbreviated.

In other words, the ordinal number (e.g. No. 3, which indicates a position in an ordered list) is abbreviated, but the cardinal number (e.g. Number of guests, which indicates a numeric quantity) is not abbreviated.

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I don't think the number need necessarily be an ordinal; what is important is that "no." is used with a number to identify something. The fact that two widgets have serial nos. 29432100 and 29432200 does not mean that there were 29,432,099 widgets produced before the first, nor that there were necessarily 99 widgets produced between them--it merely means that those numbers identify the widgets in question. –  supercat Aug 28 at 22:01

I use "num" or "nm" instead of "no" to avoid confusion with "yes/no" meaning -- especially in my computer programming variable names.

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