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Is there any precedent for abbreviating the word Units, and if more than one, is there any standardized prescription (no pun intended on my example) for which abbreviation to use in which context?

The question came up because I'm making a user input form with a field for units and the framework optionally specifies an abbreviation for the input field's label.

So, in a medical context, this

Prescription: [Hydrocodone]

is as valid is this

Rx: [Hydrocodone]

But can this

Units: [Milligrams]

be correctly substituted with something like this?

U: [Milligrams]

(NB, I'm not asking specifically about a medical context or about the accuracy of U, it's merely an example)

Note that the meaning of units as a synonym for pieces (pcs.) may be a different answer. In this case, I'm asking about units as a category including kilograms and miles. (Bonus points for also providing the answer for that other meaning.)

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

In materiel management these distinct concepts of "unit" are called the "Unit of Measure" (U/M or UOM) and "Unit of Issue" (U/I or UOI), but these terms may be unfamiliar to some.

ORIGINAL ANSWER assumed a medical context, kept here for posterity:

In a medical context, I'd be careful not to use any abbreviations that could be ambiguous. In particular, there is another meaning of the word "units" in pharmacy:

Unit 1 - a category of measurements, like kilograms, and miles.

Unit 2 - piece, item

Unit 3 - abbreviated U, or often International Unit (IU), an "unit of measurement for the amount of a substance, based on biological activity or effect." Different drugs have different-sized U's.

If you were to use the abbreviation U you might run into confusion with the last definition.

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Updated to clarify that I wasn't specifically asking about a medical context. Am I correct in reading this answer as saying that U/M or UOM could be accurate abbreviations for my definition of the word Units? – Calvin Fisher Jun 21 '12 at 20:12
Updated my answer to based on your update. In short, U/M or UOM accurately describe what I think you're after, yes. – Mark Beadles Jun 21 '12 at 21:03

Well, in a medical context, you have IU, International Units, which hilariously varies according to the substance in question. So it would be perfectly reasonable to see "IU: [Milligrams]", specifying that the IU for this substance is milligrams. And it's also common practice to simply use U rather than IU, though opinions as to the validity of this vary. So if you're asking about a display you're seeing, I would think that's what's meant.

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IU has a specific meaning (a subset of all possible units). But well noted that the abbreviation U may be ambiguously interpreted as a synonym for IU. – Calvin Fisher Jun 21 '12 at 20:11

No. "U" has no accepted meaning as an abbreviation for units.

I would also try to add more semantic meaning to the quantity for increased clarity, e.g.

  • Units of sugar
  • Units of water
  • Unit of land


  • Teaspoons of sugar
  • Buckets of water
  • Acres of land
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I think in most contexts -- including the example I used -- this would be implicit; we already know we're measuring water, but we want to know whether the measurement is in teaspoons/buckets/whatever. Unless you're just being asked what your favorite unit of measurement is, or something. (Mine is the Smoot) – Calvin Fisher Jun 22 '12 at 13:15

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