As I understand it, apostrophes are used to show where a letter/letters are missing (e.g. shouldn't-> should not, hadn't-> had not).

So when I abbreviate "little", is it correct to write:


(with an apostrophe at the end for the missing "e")

I believe it is usually written


(without the apostrophe)

But if we're leaving out the last apostrophe, can we leave out the middle one too, to give us:


  • 5
    I'd be guided by Li'l Abner. – Barrie England Jan 16 '12 at 16:10
  • @Barrie: I'd be tempted to say that Li'l Abner is the archetypal usage - if you don't want the connotations thereof, don't use the abbreviation in the first place. – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 18:25
  • 2
    Li'l Abner must have happened much after Li'l happened. – Kris Jan 17 '12 at 7:30
  • Li'l Abner is related to Bre'r Rabbit – Mitch Jul 20 '12 at 13:56

Abbreviation is usually the practice of writing a shortened word to save space on paper, or effort on the part of the writer. For example I might write "instr." as an abbreviation for "instrumental", or "vb." as an abbreviation for "verb".

Some abbreviations do indeed contain apostrophes: "international" becomes "int'l".

It is not usually expected that people would pronounce these words out loud in their abbreviated forms.

Contraction is the practice of leaving out parts of phrases like "it is" and "they are", ending up with "it's" and "they're". This is a way of writing down the shortened phrases as they are spoken. The apostrophes do indeed stand in for missing parts of the words.

However there are some spoken phrases that are sometimes written as a single word, where you might expect to see two apostrophes. "Cannot" becomes "Ca'n't" - but by convention we ignore one apostrophe and write "Can't" - see Can a word be contracted twice (e.g. "I'ven't")?

You are asking to abbreviate the word "little". There isn't a standard way to do that in the sense of "abbreviate" I've defined above.

However, in some accents, the "tt" of "little" becomes a glottal stop, and many writers have chosen to depict that as "li'l". It is a good phonetic representation of the way the word is spoken, where the apostrophe represents the small pause, or the glottal stop as it is said.

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  • (In answer to a comment that seems to have disappeared) Glottal stop or small pause. Sometimes very small indeed. I've never, either in real life or on TV/film, heard it pronounced such that it exactly rhymes with "Lil". The difference is often subtle, and I'm willing to entertain the idea of it being psychosomatic. – slim Jan 16 '12 at 16:24

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