How do you abbreviate?
"ARD, ZDF and BRD, GDR, USA and BSE" - the German hip-hop group 'Die Fantastischen Vier' dedicated a three-and-a-half-minute song to the abbreviations in 1999. The pastiche of creating abbreviations is no coincidence. Because there are thousands and thousands of short forms. Duden's 'Dictionary of Abbreviations' alone contains over 50,000 national and international abbreviations and abbreviations.
Abbreviations are efficient - on a route as well as in language. However, it is important that the recipient understands the short form. Otherwise there will be misunderstandings. In this article we explain what abbreviations are, how they are formed and when short forms should be used.
The History of Abbreviations
'MfG', the song by the group 'Die Fantastischen Vier', which abbreviates itself as 'Fanta 4', aims primarily at short forms of the 20th century. But abbreviations have a long history.
It is true that abbreviations experienced a real boom in the 19th and 20th centuries - triggered by the formation of a number of technical languages in the course of industrialization. However, short forms, such as the following (cf. Duden, p. 9), can already be found in the earliest written documents:
Abbreviations and short words
There are two different types of short forms in German: abbreviations and short words. Abbreviations are when the short form is only used in written language, i.e. not pronounced. Examples are Bhf., Tel. or Nr.
Short words, on the other hand, are also pronounced in the shortened version. Examples of abbreviations are KiTa and PKW.
formation of abbreviations
Overall, there are four ways to form abbreviations (cf. Duden, p. 9):
In this way, a word can also have several correct abbreviations. For example the word century: Jahrh., Jh., Jhdt.
formation of abbreviations
Short words can also be formed in different ways from a long form and thus divided into different groups. The Duden distinguishes between the following (cf. Duden, p. 10):
Letter abbreviations "often consist of the first letters of the individual components of the long form" (Duden, p. 10). They are also known as acronyms. Examples are ARD, ZDF and AOK. According to Duden, letter abbreviations mostly have three segments. However, there are also examples with fewer segments, such as HU and RV, or with more segments, such as ISDN.
There are differences in the pronunciation of abbreviated letters. For example, while TÜV is pronounced like a separate word, the individual letters are spoken for GmbH. However, the Duden also lists some cases in which the pronunciation varies, such as RAF and FAZ (cf. Duden, p. 10).
One of the best-known syllabic abbreviations describes someone who keeps order on the sports field: the referee. As in this example, syllable abbreviations are usually formed by the beginning of the single syllable. According to Duden, syllabic abbreviations are usually two-syllable words.
Even if only the first syllables of a word together become an abbreviation, they are syllabic abbreviations. The battery and the disco are included. These are called headwords. In line with this, short words whose last syllables become short forms are referred to as tail or end words, such as cello, a short form of violoncello (cf. Duden, p. 10).
The dictionary divides mixed abbreviations into three groups (cf. Duden, p. 10):
Special case artificial words
Artificial words are “words that are formed like abbreviations, but whose full form has never existed independently with the same meaning” (Duden, p. 10 f.). According to Duden, these are mostly product names, such as Haribo. The abbreviation is composed of the words Hans, Riegel and Bonn.
Artificial words often become part of the vocabulary over time. Examples are moped, a combination of motor and pedal, or modem, a combination of modulation and demodulation.
With or without a point?
Abbreviations are generally written without a period . This is more differentiated with abbreviations. In general, abbreviations end with a period (Dr., Abbr., Dtz.). If the abbreviation is a word group, a full stop is placed after the abbreviation of each word (e.g., ie, usually).
However, this rule has now been softened. For example, it is possible to abbreviate etc as etc. Without abbreviation points are also (cf. Duden, p. 11):
Upper and lower case and the hyphen
When writing abbreviations, you can use the full form as a guide. This means that the meaning becomes dh, phone becomes phone and number becomes number. In the case of abbreviations, the spelling of words that were originally written in lower case is usually retained (BAföG = Federal Training Assistance Act).
Hyphens are used in combinations with abbreviations and letter abbreviations, such as km-figure, long truck. The spelling of compositions with syllable or mixed abbreviations, on the other hand, varies. It is said to be battery -operated, but in addition to rehabilitation measures, rehabilitation measures are also possible (cf. Duden, p. 12).
The plural form of abbreviations
As a rule, there is no separate abbreviation for plural forms. stamp stands for postage stamp and stamps, vol. for volume and volumes. But exceptions confirm the rule in this case as well. Because some plural forms have emerged by doubling the last letter of the abbreviation: Hgg. for (several) editors, for example, or ff. for subsequent pages.
For better understanding, according to Duden, plural forms can also be formed for abbreviations, as well as feminine forms and those that indicate declension endings. In these cases, the Duden recommends proceeding as follows (cf. Duden, p. 12):
The plural formation of abbreviations
Abbreviations are treated as independent words. Therefore, they also have plural forms. These are usually formed with a plural s: AKWs, LKWs, GmbHs.
However, the Duden states an exception. The plural form of the abbreviation Castor is therefore no longer formed with a plural s, but with -en. "Castor is apparently not (or no longer) perceived as an abbreviation, so that the plural marking is based on words that end in a similar way: Castors like factors, motors, sensors, vectors." (Duden, p. 12)
When are abbreviations useful?
Speakers and writers can use abbreviations in different ways, depending on what they want to achieve. If a doctor wants to instruct a nurse to carry out an examination for a carcinoma (Latin carcinoma), but does not want to worry the patient at first, he can use the abbreviation CA to his employee (cf. Duden, p. 13).
On the other hand, if the sender wants the recipient to be informed quickly about a fact, he should make sure that the recipient understands the abbreviations used. For well-known abbreviations such as B., etc., or similar. or GmbH one can assume in most cases that they are known to the reader. Unless you are writing for non-native speakers or children. There are also abbreviations that are more common than their long forms. This applies, for example, to sleeping pads or cool packs. At this point, it is advisable to use the short form in terms of communication.
Most of the abbreviations are not commonly known. After all, they are often subject-specific short forms for communication in a specific industry. But abbreviations can also be found time and again in everyday communication, for example in letters or forms.
Many writers assume that the most common abbreviations are familiar to everyone. The table below lists some of the most popular abbreviations:
|short form||long form|
|o.o.||at the other place|
|nuclear power plant||Nuclear power plant, working group for advertising television in German industry|
|regarding, regarding||with reference to|
|Castor®||cask for storage and transport of radioactive material|
|possibly.||in which case|
|GmbH||Company with limited liability|
|FAZ, FAZ||Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung|
|UHT milk||long life milk|
|HU||Main investigation, Humanistic Union, Humboldt University of Berlin|
|i. A||on behalf|
|ISDN||Integrated Services Network (worldwide standardized universal network in communications engineering), international standard data number, isosorbitol dinitrate (Med.)|
|sleeping pad||insulating mat|
|cold pack||cold accumulator|
|RAF||Red Army Faction (terrorist organization)|
|TUV®||Association for Technical Inspection|
|etc||and other(s), among others|
|etc., etc||and so forth|
|e.g. B.||for example|
|e.g. H., z. Hd., e.g. hands||to the attention|
|e.g. currently||for now|
If you leaf through a dictionary of abbreviations, you will quickly notice that some abbreviations stand for a whole range of long forms. This is particularly common with single letters. After all, there is a plethora of words that can be abbreviated. So it says v. for example for more than 20 words – including for versus, variable, vertical, via, full, complete, from, from, before, am.
Abbreviations with single letters should therefore only be used with particular caution, namely when the corresponding long form can be deduced from the context. For many long forms, there is usually an alternative to the one-letter abbreviation. For example, it is advisable to use the word versus instead of v. to abbreviate with vs. – this is the more familiar form anyway.
Particular caution is of course also required with abbreviations with a sensitive meaning. The acronym KZ is known to many people - as an abbreviation for the concentration camps during National Socialism. But it also stands for a number of other words. The capital inflow, the key figure or the child allowance can also be abbreviated to KZ.
It always remains to be checked on a case-by-case basis whether such an abbreviation should be used. Of course, it can be useful in some cases. For example, in internal letters from companies, where the frequent use of the abbreviation in a specific context means that a different interpretation is not possible per se.