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  1. US stands for "the United States".

  2. US is short for "the United States".

What are the subtle differences between them?

  • The US is a slightly tricky one, as it can be used as both: a better example might be GB stands for "Great Britain", Britain is short for "Great Britain" – Jon Story Jan 26 '15 at 15:26
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"Stands for" is normally used when you are explaining an acronym or initialism, and may also be used for other forms of abbreviation:

USA stands for "United States of America"
Laser stands for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation"
CENTPACCOM stands for "Central Pacific Command".

"Is short for" is more normally used for non-initialism, non-acronym abbreviations, and is also the standard way to explain a nickname:

NORAD is short for "North American Aerospace Defense Command"
Peg is short for "Margaret"
Max is short for "Maximillian"

  • 3
    Why is NORAD used with "short for" but not "stand for" – Ooker Jan 26 '15 at 10:02
  • @Ooker or conversely why CENTPACCOM stands for "Central Pacific Command"? – Chris H Jan 26 '15 at 12:48
  • @ChrisH yeah, I would like to ask that question too – Ooker Jan 26 '15 at 12:50
  • @ooker and Chris, both of those could go with either "stands for" or "is short for". Personally I prefer "is short for" since (a) they are pronounced as words and (b) the short forms include more than just a single letter from each word in the corresponding long form (NOR-A-D). (If they had gone with a different abbreviation, then I could say "NADS stands for North American Defense System, but it is short for gonads.") – Hellion Jan 26 '15 at 14:40
  • I've put an edit in for this, as NORAD really isn't a short form, it's an abbreviation... just a composite one (NOR Aviation Defence, where NOR is itself a short form for Northern Command) – Jon Story Jan 26 '15 at 15:25
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"Short for" implies that its shorter. "Stands for" just means that A stands in place for B as a verbal alias.

Because these uses go beyond acronyms, sometimes in conversation you will hear things like

"Cookie"? That's short for "the team cook".

or:

"The silver chicken"? That stands for "colonel".

or even, sarcastically (especially in the military, government or other large organizations with their own doublespeak):

"Subdaylight, gravity assisted, vertical insertion"? That's short for "night jump".

In this sense "stands for" is directly replaceable with "means" or "is a/the", whereas "short for" tends to indicate a convenience name which is either actually shorter or is easier to pronounce. In common usage, the difference between the two is often negligible to non-existant.

  • I wish someone would explain what about this answer is deserving downvotes instead of just subjecting it to drivebys. – zxq9 Jan 27 '15 at 16:02
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These are equivalent expressions, but the concept is easily understood (at least in the U.S.) and more usually appears as, "the United States (hereafter, U.S.)..."

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