Common Abbreviations in English

In this busy day and age, there are so many expectations on our time and so many (more) things we want to do, that we take shortcuts all over the place. Think about it: emails are getting shorter, text messages are bare bones, and sending a picture is faster than explaining a situation sometimes. We just don’t have the time we need anymore…even when we speak! (How lazy can we be??) Learning common abbreviations in English can take your language fluency to a whole new level.


You don’t want to use these common abbreviations all the time, but they are definitely appropriate and necessary in certain situations. In any case, you should know what they mean.




You’ll see RSVP if you receive an invitation to something through snail mail or in your inbox . RSVP is actually a French abbreviation for responde s’il vous plaît, or, please respond. (Click here for more French borrowings.) 


We have even turned it into a verb: if you RSVP to an event, you’re letting the host know whether or not you’ll be in attendance so that they can plan accordingly.


Bonus abbreviation: PSA, or Public Service Announcement: It’s common courtesy, and always polite, to RSVP by the requested date. That way the host isn’t chasing after all their guests, asking if they’ll be there!




Have you ever heard someone say, “just FYI?” FYI stands for “for your information.” You might hear it if someone wants to tell you something that they’d like you to know.


For example, I may tell my roommate at the end of a conversation, “just FYI, I won’t be home tomorrow evening.” FYI has a connotation of an extra bit of information that’s not necessary for the other person, but is good for them to know.


Some of us have also turned the whole abbreviation into a noun, sometimes saying, “here’s an FYI..” or “just an FYI”. Listen for both versions!





BRB is a bit of text-speak (which reminds Crystal of her 90s AOL Chat Room days- haha!) that has managed to make its way into everyday language. BRB means “be right back.”


Whether you’re just getting a snack from the kitchen, or talking to someone on Skype and have to go answer the door, you can use BRB to let the person you’re with know that you’ll only be gone for a moment.




Are you headed to a cafe that only accepts cash, but you just have your card on you? Then stop off at an ATM to get some cash out!


An ATM is an “automatic teller machine,” and in my opinion is one of the most convenient aspects of modern life. No more waiting in line at the bank! Be careful when talking about an ATM, though, that you don’t say “ATM machine.” Saying “ATM machine” is redundant, so just ATM will do.


Just to confuse you a little, and to connect to our text-speak audience, atm, spelled lowercase, means “at the moment”. For example, “What are you doing atm?”




TMI is another one of the most favorite common abbreviations of teenage girls (or at least it was when I was in school), but it’s handy to know! TMI stands for “too much information.”


For example, my mom is a nurse. She loves telling her gross-out surgery stories in the middle of dinner, and my brother and I usually tell her, “Ma, TMI. We’re eating.” We also reserve this term for those in our lives who are over-sharers. I think you know what I mean…




ASAP is one of the most common abbreviations, which is certainly good for you to know. If you want something done ASAP, you want it done “as soon as possible.”


This is a great abbreviation, as you can tell your kids to clean their rooms ASAP, have an employee turn in a report ASAP, or casually say, “I need a coffee ASAP.”


In pronouncing the term, most people say the individual letters, like all the items on our list. But some people prefer A-SAP, so you will hear this version as well. (Look out for an upcoming Bespeaking blog with common abbreviations that are NOT spelled out when pronounced.  We call these acronyms!)




PS comes from a time when it was common to write letters sent by the post office, and it’s still something we normally just use in written form. PS stands for “post script,” or it’s Latin origin, “post scriptum”, and is very similar to FYI in that it’s used to give a piece of information that was left out of an earlier conversation.


Something to keep in mind when using both PS and FYI, is that they’re just small bits of information. You’re not starting a whole new conversation or telling a story.


What abbreviations have you used before? Do you know of any that didn’t make this list? Share with us in the comments below!


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Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and P.S. is an avid user of abbreviations and acronyms!  

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