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Carol Culver Rzadkiewicz

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Abbreviations, Capitalization, and Numbers
by Carol Culver Rzadkiewicz   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, January 02, 2008

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Do you know the rules governing the use of abbreviations, capitalization, and numbers?


Abbreviations, Capitalization, and Numbers




In formal writing, one should use abbreviations only when they are appropriate.


  1. Always spell out acronyms upon first reference, for example, United Auto Workers, followed by the acronym in parentheses (UAW).

  2. In ordinary writing use Ms. (or Ms), Mr., Mrs., Dr., and St. before a proper name. Use such designations as Jr., Sr., II, and M.D. after a proper name.

Ms. Kathy Chandler, Dr. Harold Smith, St. Louis, Hall Grant Sr., Earl Ames II, Alvin Morris, M.D.


  1. Spell out names of states, countries, continents, months, days of the week, and units of measurement.

  2. Abbreviations for degrees are as follows: B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.

  3. Abbreviate words used with dates and figures: 58 B.C., 8:00 A.M. or 8:00 a.m., 9:00 EST or 9:00 E.S.T., No. 14, 80 MPH.

  4. Abbreviate The District of Columbia: Washington, D.C.

  5. Abbreviate common Latin expressions: e.g. (for example), et. al. (and others), etc. (and so forth), vs. or v. (versus), i.e. (that is).

  6. Avoid the use of the ampersand (&) unless it is part of an official title, for example, Miller & Company.


Exercise: Correct any abbreviation that is inappropriate in formal writing:


  1. Ms. Susan Myers may be a Dr. but she isn’t a saint
  2. His birthday is on Aug. 15, and for his birthday, he is going to Calif.
  3. I belong to PETA and the SPCA.
  4. He said that he would be here at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning, but I don’t expect him to arrive until after one o’clock.
  5. When was the Mesopotamian Era—2000 Before the Common Era or 500 Before Christ?
  6. He wants to buy a sports car & a new truck.



  1. Spell out numbers one through nine, although some publications also demand that “Ten” be expressed as a word.
  2. Spell out numbers, regardless of their word count, if they begin a sentence: Two million dollars is the estimated cost of damage from last week’s tornado.
  3. Use numbers to specify time of day: 4:30 P.M.
  4. Use numbers for dates: May 8, 1999, 1990s or 1990’s, from 1990 to 2007 or 1990-2007.  
  5. Use numbers for addresses: Apartment 8D, 675 East Sunset Dr., 230 Ninth Street.
  6. Use numbers for pages and divisions in books and plays: page 21, chapter 19, act 3, scene 2 or Act 3, Scene ii.
  7. Use numbers for decimals and percentages: a 7.5 average, 50 percent, .900 metric ton.
  8. Use numbers in series and statistics: 135 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 15 feet deep; the members voted 35 to 16 against the measure
  9. Large round numbers: forty billion dollars or 40 billion dollars if it does not begin a sentence; 15,000,000 or 15 million if it does not begin a sentence.

 Exercise: Change each item to an acceptable abbreviation:


  1. on the eighteenth of June
  2. Susan Henderson, medical doctor
  3. seventy million dollars
  4. by the second of December, 2007
  5. four hundred years before Christ
  6. in the second scene of the first act of the play
  7. two o’clock in the morning



Capitalize the following:


  1. Names of particular people, places, and things: Susan B. Anthony, Oak Street, Empire State Building
  2. Geographic names: Deep South, Arctic Circle, Old West, Pacific Northwest
  3. People of all cultures and their languages; Spanish, Latin, English, French, Russian, Yiddish
  4. Organizations, government agencies, institutions, companies: American Red Cross, Congress, Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard University, Federal Express
  5. Days of the week, months, and holidays: Monday, April, Valentine’s Day
  6. Historical documents, periods, and events; the Bill of Rights, Vietnam War, Romantic Movement
  7. Religions and their adherents, holy books, holy days, words denoting the Supreme Being; Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Baptist, Methodist, Mormon; the Holy Bible, the Quran, the Book of Revelations, Yom Kipper, Easter, Ramadan.
  8. Personifications: I felt the Eternal Footman breathing down my neck.
  9. Derivatives if they derive from proper nouns: Americanize, Stalinism, Orwellian
  10. Shortened forms of capitalized words: D.C., LA, IRS, CNN, NATO
  11. Capitalize titles of persons that precede the name but not those that follow it; Governor Kathleen Blanco; Kathleen Blanco, our governor; President George Bush; George Bush, our president; Captain John Smith; John Smith, the captain of the ship.
  12. Capitalize all words in the title of a book, article, play, etc. except for articles, conjunctions, prepositions, and the “to” in infinitives—unless they are the first word: “What It Takes to Be Successful;”; For Whom the Bell Tolls; Death of a Salesman.
  13. Capitalize titles of courses but not subjects: I am taking history at the college this semester; I had Dr. Yancy for History 102; I do not enjoy literature; I hate my American Literature 125 class!

 Exercise: Supply capitals if they are needed:


  1. I am trying to make a decent grade in literature, but professor Smith is too hard; plus, I don’t really like British literature 100.
  2. The west offers many exciting places to visit, for example, the grand canyon, the painted desert, and even several working ranches.
  3. At the end of his sermon on god’s forgiveness, preacher Martin waved the holy bible overhead and shouted, “It’s all here in revelations, my children. The end is near!”
  4. The title of his new book is Learning how to love again after divorce, and it’s already made the New York times bestseller list for the month of may.

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Reviewed by Trevor Penick
I had to closely read some of these for a refresher. It's easy to forget some of the simple rules, but easier for an editor to elimante your work from his list of considerations due to such errors. Thanks!
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