In writing, when should one use the abbreviation vs. as opposed to the full versus?

This abbreviation seems to have special status from common usage. What is the origin of that, and in what writing contexts is it important?


In American legal documents, "v." is normally used as the abbreviation of "versus" when describing the parties in a case, like if Mr Jones sues the XYZ Corporation the case will be called "Jones v. XYZ Corp". Or if the government charges someone with a crime, it will be "The United States v. Fred Jones".

Outside of legal documents, "versus" is normally abbreviated "vs."

As to when to spell it out and when to use the abbreviation, this is a matter of the level of formality of the document. Some "standard" abbreviations are accepted in contexts where most abbreviations would not be, like "etc." and "et al.". I think "vs." would be one step less formal than those, but it would not be out of place to use "vs." in documents where, say, you wouldn't abbreviate "committee" to "cmte." and the like.

That's not a very definitive answer, but many of these language rules aren't.

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    is the fullstop necessary? – Pacerier May 12 '12 at 13:56
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    @Pacerier By conventional rules, I would say yes. I believe legal documents routinely include the period. But to at least some extent that's a matter of style. Personally I often drop the periods after "Mr" and "Mrs", and my daughter routinely ridicules me for this. – Jay May 14 '12 at 14:48
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    @Pacerier: According to the strict British style of writing, the full stop at the end ought to be dropped. Same goes with Mr and Mrs. Reference link – Ébe Isaac Sep 23 '16 at 6:47

This is a matter of style; there is no universal rule.

The Guardian Style Guide says:

v for versus, not vs: England v Australia, Rochdale v Sheffield Wednesday, etc

What feels right to me is to use an abbreviation (v or vs; but be consistent) in the context above -- naming sports matches, court cases etc -- and spell the word versus in full for all other uses.

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    As per Jay's answer, to an American, "England v Australia" looks like a monster court battle :) – Andrew Dec 21 '11 at 4:39
  • v is very common for sport in the UK. We can find "England v Australia" from many UK sites: BBC, Sky Sports, Yorkshire Evening Post, the Telegraph, the Guardian, The Sun, The England and Wales Cricket Board, Durham County Cricket Club... – Hugo Dec 21 '11 at 9:37
  • @Andrew What about "England vs Australia" ? – Pacerier May 12 '12 at 13:57
  • @pacerier: "England vs Australia" to me sounds like a soccer match, or an olympic event, something of that sort. – Andrew May 13 '12 at 3:53
  • In my 1970s Welsh primary school, impromptu division into teams always used 'v'. A quick think about numbers, then "OK, football, Bow Street vee the rest". – slim Sep 17 '18 at 14:25

Versus is first recorded in English, in a legal context, in the mid-fifteenth century. It is frequently abbreviated, as you say, to v., but ver. and vs. are also found. In fact, vs. is the only abbreviation in the supporting citations in the Oxford English Dictionary. The extent to which it might be advisable to use the full form will depend on the formality of the document in which it appears, but v. should be appropriate in many cases. It is, for example, found in the titles of law suits.

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I would suggest

  • v. in legal and related use, opposing sports teams, maybe political battles even

  • versus when it is expressly mandated or when you fall short of character count

  • vs. in all other cases, with or without italicization

This is not based on any style guide, only a quick and easy reference. The full form is rarely used, so much so most do not even recognize it for what it is.

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Mr Pacerier says "by conventional rules" it's "vs." with a fullstop. I thought that if you had first and last letter of the word there was no need for the stop. The important thing though in v versus v. versus vs versus vs. and versus vs against is surely choosing one and being consistent in your text. On a lighter note, I've seen people write "verses" ... nice to think poetically about a rather prosaic matter.

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