6.3.11 Latin Abbreviations
Standard Latin abbreviations do not normally require definition when they are used in formal scholarly prose, but some of them are misused with a surprising frequency, presumably because their precise meanings are not fully understood by authors or are not considered carefully enough in relation to the context. The format of many of these abbreviations can vary in terms of capitalisation, font (roman or italic) and punctuation depending on the guidelines followed and the version of English (British or American) used. In a few cases, the abbreviations can be confusing for the reader and tend to be used a great deal less in the early twenty-first century than they were in the past; in others, the abbreviations are best avoided in the running text of a thesis, but can be freely used in notes, parenthetical material and other ancillary matter. The list below provides acceptable forms and variants of a number of the most common Latin abbreviations along with definitions and some brief notes on their use. While drafting and proofreading your thesis, you should ensure that each Latin abbreviation you use is formatted in an acceptable way, that the abbreviation chosen for each term is distinct from other abbreviations in your thesis (from similar English abbreviations, for example), that each abbreviation takes a consistent form throughout the thesis and that the punctuation and other elements associated with each abbreviation are consistent as well.
- Academic degree abbreviations sometimes represent Latin terms instead of English ones. This is the case with ‘M.D.’ for Medicinae Doctor (Doctor of Medicine), for instance, and ‘Ph.D.’ for Philosophiae Doctor (Doctor of Philosophy); see Section 15.21 of the Chicago Manual of Style (2003) for further examples. These abbreviations can use full stops or not (‘MD’ or ‘M.D.’ and ‘PhD’ or ‘Ph.D.’) and are enclosed in commas when they follow a personal name (Sarah Jones, Ph.D., is the first applicant). Roman (rather than italic) font is used for all degree abbreviations, which can be used in the main running text of a thesis.
- cit., art. cit.: articulo citato (in the cited article). This abbreviation is used in references after an author’s name to refer to the title of an already cited article, but it is used infrequently now and some guidelines will ask that it be avoided. When used, it can appear in either roman or italic font, but using a shortened version of the article title is preferable.
- , ca, ca.: circa (‘approximately’ or ‘about’). This abbreviation is almost always set in italic font and, although the single- or double-letter form (the latter with or without a full stop) is sometimes preferred, either is acceptable as long as it is maintained throughout a thesis. The abbreviation often appears before uncertain dates and numerals, in which case there is no space between the abbreviation and the number (c.1325), but a space should appear if the abbreviation precedes a letter or word (c. AD 1325). If both dates given for a span of dates are approximate, the abbreviation should appear with each date (c.1325–c.1350), but dates using a circa abbreviation should not be elided. Although the abbreviation can be used in this way with dates and other numerals in the running text of a thesis, in many instances it will be preferable to use an English word instead. At the beginning of a note, this abbreviation can remain lowercase.
- , cap.: capitulum (chapter). An alternative to the English abbreviations for ‘chapter’ (see Section 6.3.10 above), this abbreviation tends to be used in citations and references and generally appears in roman font, which prevents confusion with c. for circa.
- : confer (compare). Frequently misused to mean ‘see’ instead of ‘compare’ (so do consider its meaning carefully in context when you use it), this abbreviation almost always appears in roman font and is generally only used in parentheses or ancillary material such as footnotes or endnotes. In the running text of a thesis, the English ‘compare’ or similar wording should be used instead. The abbreviation can be used in lowercase at the beginning of a note.
- V., CV: curriculum vitae (course of life). This abbreviation is used in roman font and refers to a biographical résumé of a person’s training and career such as that used when applying for a job or providing credentials. It can generally be used in the main running text of a thesis.
- pers., dram. pers.: dramatis personae (characters of the play). Usually appearing in roman font, this abbreviation is appropriate for parenthetical or ancillary material such as notes and tables; in running text, the full Latin (in italics) or equivalent English phrasing should be used instead.
- g.: exempli gratia (for example). This abbreviation almost always appears in roman font and is used with great frequency – sometimes excessive frequency – in academic and scientific writing, where it is at times confused with ‘i.e.’ (see below). As a general rule, it should be used only in parentheses or ancillary material such as notes; in the running text of a thesis, equivalent English words (‘for example,’ ‘for instance’ etc.) are preferable. The abbreviation should be preceded by a comma, semicolon or colon, or an opening parenthesis if it is provided in parentheses, and is usually followed by a comma as well. It can remain lowercase at the beginning of a note.
- Era abbreviations sometimes represent Latin instead of English terms, such as ‘AD’ for Anno Domini (‘In the Year of the Lord’: Christian), ‘AH’ for Anno Hegirae (‘In the Year of the Hegira’: Muslim) and ‘AM’ for Anno Mundi (‘In the Year of the World’: Jewish); for further examples and explanations, see the Chicago Manual of Style (2003, Section 15.41) and Ritter (2005, Section 11.6.3). A Latin abbreviation for a chronological era should appear in roman font and precede the year (AD 1325), whereas an English abbreviation of an era follows the year (316 BC). Although these Latin era abbreviations can feature full stops (‘A.D.,’ ‘A.H.’ and ‘A.M’) they usually do not, which in the last example conveniently avoids confusion with the capitalised ‘A.M.’ abbreviation for ante meridiem (see time of day abbreviations below).
- et al., et al, et al., et al: et alii (masculine) et aliae (feminine) et alia (neuter), meaning ‘and others.’ Predominantly used for references, this abbreviation can nonetheless appear in the main running text of a thesis. A full stop should never appear after ‘et’ because it is the complete word for ‘and,’ so is not abbreviated. A full stop does usually appear after the abbreviated ‘al,’ however, but not in all styles, and italics are sometimes used and sometimes not. There is also considerable variation regarding when ‘et al.’ should be used – for three or more authors, for four or more or for six or more depending on the guidelines and whether it is used in the main text or in the reference list/bibliography (for more information on the use of ‘et al.,’ see Sections 7.2.1 and 7.3.1). Guidelines also differ with regard to whether or not a comma should be used before and/or after ‘et al.’
- : et cetera (‘and the rest,’ ‘and so forth’ or ‘and other things’). This frequently used abbreviation almost always appears in roman font and should be used only in parentheses or ancillary material such as notes; in the main running text of a thesis, equivalent English words (‘and so on,’ ‘and so forth’ or ‘and the like’) are preferable. When used in lists (as it often is), the abbreviation should follow at least two (some advice suggests three) items to provide the reader with enough information to conjecture how the list might continue (‘peaches, pears, apples etc.,’ not ‘peaches etc.’). If the serial comma is normally used in a thesis, a comma should precede ‘etc.,’ but the comma is not necessary if a serial comma is not generally used. While ‘etc.’ can be used when listing types of people, ‘and others’ (or the abbreviation ‘et al.’) is better when listing individual people. The abbreviation should not be used at the end of a list that begins with ‘such as,’ ‘e.g.,’ ‘for example’ or ‘including,’ because these indicate that the list will be incomplete, and ‘etc.’ should not be written with an ampersand (&c) except when an older source is being duplicated or transcribed.
- et seq., et seq. (plural ‘et seqq., et seqq.’): et sequens with the plural et sequentes (and the following). This abbreviation is generally, but not always, set in italic font, and in its singular and plural forms it serves as an alternative to ‘f.’ and ‘ff.’ (see Section 6.3.10 above). It is used after a page number to refer to the following pages (‘pp.26 et seq.’ and ‘pp.26 et seqq.’), but unless guidelines indicate otherwise, ‘f.’ or ‘ff.’ is usually preferable, and a specific page range is preferable to both (‘pp.26–27’ and ‘pp.26–31’). When it is used, a full stop should not appear after et, which is not abbreviated, but a stop should appear after the abbreviated or seqq.
- , fl.: floruit (flourished). This abbreviation is used, generally parenthetically, along with a date or dates to indicate the approximate active or productive period of a historical individual when birth and death dates are uncertain. It usually (but not always) appears in italic font before the relevant date or dates with a space between the abbreviation and the first date: William Langland (fl. 1350–1390). In the main running text of a thesis, equivalent English words are usually preferable: ‘William Langland was active in the second half of the fourteenth century.’
- , ibid. (occasionally, ‘ib.’ or ‘ib.’): ibidem (‘in the same place’ or ‘in that very place’). Appearing in roman or (occasionally) italic font, ‘ibid.’ is used particularly in references, but not as often as it once was; it now tends to be used primarily for footnote and endnote references in the humanities, especially when guidelines call for it. It is used instead of repeating bibliographical information when a source is cited again immediately (without any intervening references) after it has been cited in the preceding note (or sentence within a note). Because it means ‘in that very place,’ it must be used with great care: only if everything about the second citation is exactly the same as the first can it be used alone, and any information that differs must be provided along with ‘ibid.’ (e.g., ‘ibid., p.13’ for the same author and title but a different page). ‘Ibid.’ should only be used if the reference and other information intended are absolutely clear; otherwise, it should be avoided. A comma sometimes but not always appears between ‘ibid.’ and a following page number (or other indicator of location).
- , id., ead., ead., eid., eid., eaed., eaed.: idem (masculine), eadem (feminine), eidem (masculine plural), eaedem (feminine plural), meaning ‘the same person’ or, for the plural, ‘the same people.’ Although it is more common to use the full versions of these Latin words, the abbreviations are occasionally used in references in either roman or italic font. Their use is much rarer than it once was, but either the full or abbreviated forms can be used as substitutes for author names when works by the same author(s) are cited consecutively. A comma should normally follow the abbreviation or Latin word, just as it would an author’s name. Either form (abbreviated or full) must be used appropriately in terms of gender and number, so the name of a single male author should be replaced with ‘id.’ or idem, the name of a single female author with ‘ead.’ or eadem, the names of joint male authors or a mixture of male and female authors with ‘eid.’ or eidem and the names of joint female authors with ‘eaed.’ or eaedem. If there is any doubt about the author or authors intended or any doubt about the gender of the author or authors, the use of both the abbreviations and the full versions should be avoided.
- e.: id est (that is). This abbreviation almost always appears in roman font and is frequently used in academic and scientific writing, where it is sometimes confused with ‘e.g.’ (see above). As a general rule, it should be used only in parentheses or ancillary material such as notes; in the running text of a thesis, equivalent English words (‘that is’ or even ‘namely’ in some cases) are preferable. The abbreviation should be preceded by a comma, semicolon or colon, or an opening parenthesis if it is provided in parentheses, and is usually followed by a comma as well. It can remain lowercase at the beginning of a note.
- , inf.: infra (below). Appearing in either roman or italic font, this abbreviation is used primarily for (parenthetical) cross references, as is the full word in some instances, but it is usually best to replace both with the English word ‘below.’
- cit., loc. cit.: loco citato (in the cited place). Used for referencing in either roman or italic font, this abbreviation represents a specific location within a work, so its function is extremely limited; it is also often misunderstood and used in inappropriate ways. Although it can prevent the repetition of long and complex location references, this abbreviation must be used with absolute precision to be effective, and since repeating the information usually takes very little more space than the abbreviation and is always clearer, the abbreviation is best avoided.
- MS (plural MSS): manuscriptum with the plural manuscripta (‘manuscript’ or ‘manuscripts’). Set in roman font, this abbreviation is often read as abbreviating the English word ‘manuscript,’ but is technically a Latin abbreviation. It is normally not used in the running prose of a thesis except when providing the name and number of a particular manuscript (Cambridge, University Library MS Ff.1.6), but it can be used more freely in parenthetical and ancillary material such as notes and tables.
- , n.: natus (born). This abbreviation can be used in either roman or italic font before the birth date of an individual without any intervening space between the abbreviation and the date (n.1945), but only in parenthetical or ancillary material, and often the English abbreviation ‘b.’ for ‘born’ (used in exactly the same way but always in roman font) is preferred.
- (add an ‘s’ for the plural): numero (number). Although often understood as abbreviating the English word ‘number,’ this abbreviation is actually a contraction of the Latin numero, but one that almost always uses a full stop, which conveniently distinguishes it from the word ‘no’ in English. Set in roman font, this abbreviation tends to be used in references and in ancillary material such as tables and figures. It can be used along with numerals in running text, but otherwise, it is usually best to write out the word ‘number’ instead.
- , ob.: obiit (died). This abbreviation can be used in either roman or italic font before the death date of an individual without any intervening space between the abbreviation and the date (ob.2011), but only in parenthetical or ancillary material, and often the English abbreviation ‘d.’ for ‘died’ (used in exactly the same way but always in roman font) is preferred.
- cit., op. cit.: opere citato (in the cited work). Used in references after an author’s name to refer to the title of an already cited work, this abbreviation is now little used and some guidelines will ask that it be avoided. When used, it can appear in either roman or italic font, but using a shortened version of the title is preferable.
- per cent, percent, %: per centum (by the hundred). Although this abbreviation (and symbol) is essentially naturalised in English, it remains an abbreviation of a pure Latin term and often appears in scholarly writing. Some guidelines will recommend that the symbol (%) not be used in running text, but both that and the longer form of the abbreviation are often used in the main body of a thesis, with the two-word abbreviation predominant in British English and the one-word abbreviation in American English. It always appears in roman font, features no full stop and is usually (especially as ‘%’) accompanied by a number in the form of a numeral rather than a word; when the amount is not exact, the number can appear as a word with ‘per cent’ or ‘percent.’
- r: recto (on the right). Almost always set in roman font, this abbreviation is used to refer to the front or first page of a folio, which appears on the right side when a book lies open before the reader. In theses, it is used primarily in references to manuscripts and early printed books immediately after the folio number without intervening space (fol.86r), sometimes in a superscript font (fol.86r), and it is acceptable in both parenthetical material and running text. The recto abbreviation is sometimes omitted, however, as unnecessary, with ‘fol.86’ referring to the recto of the folio, and ‘fol.86v’ referring to the verso (the back or second page) of the folio (see the abbreviation ‘v’ below). When recto and/or verso references are used, folio numbers should not be elided.
- (‘ss.’ for the plural): saeculum with the plural saecula (‘an age’ or ‘a century,’ or, in the plural, ‘ages’ or ‘centuries’). Almost always set in roman font, this abbreviation is used along with (usually lowercase) Roman numerals to indicate centuries (with ‘s. xiii’ referring to the thirteenth century), particularly when dating medieval manuscripts. It is most acceptable in parenthetical material, but is often used in figure captions and legends as well.
- , sup.: supra (above). Appearing in either roman or italic font, this abbreviation is used primarily for cross references, as is the full word in some instances, but it is often best to replace both with the English word ‘above.’ The same is the case with ‘ut sup./ut sup.’ (abbreviating ut supra) – ‘as above’ is clearer for English readers.
- Time of day in relation to noon is indicated by the Latin abbreviations ‘a.m.’ or ‘A.M.’ for ante meridiem (before noon), ‘p.m.’ or ‘P.M.’ for post meridiem (after noon) and, far more rarely, ‘m.’ or ‘M.’ for meridies (noon). Although these abbreviations sometimes appear, particularly in American English, without full stops when capitalised (‘AM,’ ‘PM’ and ‘M’), this can produce confusion with the abbreviation ‘AM’ for Anno Mundi (see era abbreviations above), so including the full stops is the best policy. ‘Morning,’ ‘afternoon,’ ‘evening,’ ‘night’ and ‘o’clock’ should not be used along with ‘a.m.’ or ‘p.m.’ – either ‘10.30 a.m.’ or ‘ten thirty in the morning’ is correct and, similarly, either ‘7.00 p.m.’ or ‘seven o’clock in the evening’ is correct. As these examples show, the abbreviation should follow the time indicated, and a space should be used between the numeral and the abbreviation. It is acceptable to use this abbreviation in the main running text of a thesis.
- v: verso (on the turned). Almost always set in roman font, this abbreviation is derived from ‘in verso folio’ (on the turned leaf) and used to refer to the back or second page of a folio. In theses, it is used primarily in references to manuscripts and early printed books immediately after the folio number without intervening space (fol.86v), sometimes in a superscript font (fol.86v), and is acceptable in both parenthetical material and running text. Unlike recto references, verso references are always required. When recto and/or verso references are used, folio numbers should not be elided.
- : videlicet (namely). Almost always set in roman font, this abbreviation has a function similar to that of ‘i.e.,’ but is used more rarely. Like ‘i.e.,’ it should only be used in parentheses or ancillary material such as notes; in the running text of a thesis, equivalent English words (‘namely’ or even ‘that is’ in some cases) are preferable. The abbreviation is usually preceded by a comma, semicolon or colon, or an opening parenthesis if it is provided in parentheses, and tends to be followed by a comma as well, but it is often either replaced with ‘i.e.’ or written out in English.
- , v.: versus (versus). This abbreviation almost always appears in roman font, and the ‘vs.’ form is the most common; ‘v.’ is used between the names of parties in legal cases, but notice that it can also mean ‘verse’ (see Section 6.3.10 above). As a general rule, ‘vs.’ is used in parenthetical or ancillary material and should not be used in the running text of a thesis, where the word ‘versus’ should be used instead.
PRS Tip: Confusion is all too possible if the abbreviations you use in your thesis are not completely accurate and recorded with absolute precision and consistency. I have already mentioned the distinction (a full stop) between the abbreviations for ‘Saint’ and ‘Street,’ but a couple more examples will illustrate the potential for ambiguity and the importance of attending to each and every detail associated with abbreviations and their use, no matter how small or insignificant those details may seem. The first is the ‘#’ symbol (referred to as the number, pound or hash sign) which is often used in American English to indicate ‘number.’ Given the potential (and desire) for an international readership for most theses, this symbol should be avoided as a general rule, because it does not usually mean ‘number’ in Britain, for instance, and has other meanings depending on the context: it is used, for example, as a symbol in linguistics, music and proof correction, on telephone keyboards (the ‘pound key’) and, more recently, in hashtags for social networking and the like. Therefore, the standard Latin abbreviation ‘no.’ (plural ‘nos.’) is a much better choice. The abbreviation ‘MS’ also has more than one meaning, so the meaning intended in any particular situation needs to be specified via the format of the abbreviation and the way in which it is used in a sentence. ‘MS’ as an initialism means ‘multiple sclerosis’ and is read as individual letters, so it should be used with ‘an’ when an indefinite article is required (an MS patient). ‘MS’ in exactly the same form also means ‘manuscript’ (technically, the Latin manuscriptum), however, and while the plural ‘MSS’ clearly indicates this meaning, identifying what is represented by the singular form depends upon context and the fact that it is pronounced as the word ‘manuscriptum/manuscript,’ so is preceded by ‘a’ when an indefinite article is needed (a MS). To complicate matters further, ‘MS’ can also be used to abbreviate ‘Master of Science,’ though in this case alternate forms can be used to specify that meaning – ‘M.S.,’ ‘MSc’ and ‘M.Sc.’ In addition, when the same abbreviation uses an initial capital only – ‘Ms’ (or ‘Ms.’) – it is a social title preferred by many women because it does not determine marital status as ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’ does. Finally, ‘ms’ using all lowercase letters abbreviates ‘millisecond.’ With the last three forms there is much less potential for confusion, of course, but in all cases clarity is determined by extremely careful usage, so this abbreviation is a good reminder of the fact that abbreviations are only as effective as their use is accurate, consistent and precise. If you are having difficulties formatting and integrating abbreviations into your prose or are simply unsure that your own use of abbreviations achieves the precision it should, do send your thesis chapters to PRS, where professional academic and scientific proofreaders can ensure that your use of abbreviations (and other elements in your writing) is just what it should be.
Why PhD Success?
To Graduate Successfully
This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.
The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.
The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.
Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations.
Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.
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