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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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4  
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
    
@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
    
@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
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3 Answers

up vote 14 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
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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 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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