Lexico and Imperial College London say that the difference between abbreviations and contractions is that contractions omit letters in the middle and not in the end, hence Dr, for example, is a contraction and not an abbreviation.


Contractions are a type of abbreviation in which letters from the middle of the word are omitted. Examples include: Dr (Doctor), St (Saint), Ltd (Limited), Revd (Reverend).

Imperial College London:

An abbreviation omits letters from the end of a word and a contraction omits letters from the middle of a word. <...> Contracted titles such as Dr, Mr and Mrs should not be followed by a full stop.

Larry Trask in his article on the website of University of Sussex, on the other hand, have another view, and considers Dr to be an abbreviation and not a contraction:

Abbreviations must be clearly distinguished from contractions. The key difference is that an abbreviation does not normally have a distinctive pronunciation of its own. So, for example, the abbreviation Dr is pronounced just like Doctor, the abbreviation oz is pronounced just like ounce(s) and the abbreviation e.g. is pronounced just like for example. (True, there are a few people who actually say "ee-jee" for the last one, but this practice is decidedly unusual.) A contraction, in contrast, does have its own distinctive pronunciation: for example, the contraction can't is pronounced differently from cannot, and the contraction she's is pronounced differently from she is or she has.

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    As you can see from your research, different 'authorities' use the terms in different (and conflicting) ways. In fact, I think my tally for distinct definitions of 'acronym' has now reached 16. And that's easier to research. Commented May 26, 2021 at 11:07
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    Abbreviations use letters. Contractions use sounds. Hence Trask is right that abbreviations don't have standard pronunciations; they're not pronounced, for the most part -- their objective is to save space, not sounds. And when they do get pronounced, how to say them is up to the speaker, and varies. Contractions, on the other hand, like isn't, gotta, gonna, sup, probly, and the like, are simplifications of pronunciation, not spelling. The fact that there are arguments about how to spell "didn't used to", but not how to pronounce it, shows that contractions are oral, not written. Commented May 26, 2021 at 14:40
  • @JohnLawler Here is my way to distinguish contractions from abbreviations: the necessary condition: a word in question should be truncated in the middle instead of in the end; the sufficient condition: the new form must be also pronounced differently from the original one. Is it correct?
    – john c. j.
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


The answer is yes. They do differ in pronunciation and in spelling. As a general rule, contractions are pronounced as if letters are not omitted. Abbreviations pronounced as they are written.

Examples might be in America, UCLA for the University of California, Los Angeles. Abbreviated, it is pronounced U.C.L.A. Some abbreviations have become acronyms. Militaries, Space Agencies, and businesses, etc., tend to be prolific in turning titles for organizations, then churning out abbreviations for them, then making those abbreviations into acronyms that are phonetically sounded out. Then again, sports such as Cricket, basketball, golf, soccer, as well as professions all do it, too.

Example: North Atlantic Treaty Organization was abbreviated to NATO (N.A.T.O.) which is phonetically read out as North Atlantic Treaty Organization; but, turned that into an acronym, NATO (phonetically pronounced as "naytou.") There are many examples where abbreviations become acronyms.

In American English grammar, abbreviations for titles, such as Doctor, Reverend, etc., require a period or dot, or full stop. (Dr.). In British English, they expressly do not.

My best advice is to pick one authoritative source--and stick to it. For British English, I'd choose Oxford; but, many side with Cambridge. Pick one. If in America, Websters or American Heritage. The point is, if you can have four watches, you never know what time it is. If you have to have four watches, know one is for New York, another for London, yet another for Tokyo, and the last for Hawaii. With one, however, that's exactly what time it is.

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    Answers lacking support often come across as, and sometimes are, no more than personal opinion. Lexico defines contractions as a subset of abbreviations. OP's second 'authority' sees them as disjoint sets, discriminated on the grounds of where letters are omitted. Trask gives an inadequate definition ('Abbreviations must be clearly distinguished from contractions. The key difference is that an abbreviation does not normally ...' almost defies belief) largely based on pronunciation differences. // But most major dictionaries, ... Commented May 26, 2021 at 11:01
  • and Wikipedia, give the broadest possible definition of 'abbreviation'. This answer is severely lacking without the slightest hint of supporting references, and misleading. Terminologies quite obviously differ. Commented May 26, 2021 at 11:01
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    The respected compilers (at any reputable dictionary) analyse corpus data to determine usage. They're almost certainly more reliable, and even more, more convincing than someone not prepared to add supporting references. ELU virtually requires such links. And when popular definitions conflict so obviously, claims to have 'the single right answer' are usually worryingly lacking in balance. Commented May 26, 2021 at 11:26
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    The lack of a clear definition (I'd guess that few would class ie as a contraction but that most would pronounce the letters), and the lack of a discussion of the fact that there are other definitions in play, constitute what is to be judged. Commented May 26, 2021 at 14:51

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