Looking up these three words it's not clear which is which and often 缩写 seems to be used in most cases I've come across, which doesn't seem to be correct.

Can someone confirm what are the equivalents in Chinese for these three words:

acronym; initialism; abbreviation?


缩 in 缩写 means "to condense/ to contract"

Acronym and initialism are both (首字母)缩写. (contracting a phrase using the first alphabet of each word in the phrase) 聯邦調查局 (Federal Bureau of Investigation) 的 (首字母)缩写 是 FBI

中央情報局 (Central Intelligence Agency) 的 (首字母)缩写 是 CIA

abbreviation is (字句)缩写 (abbreviate a phrase by omitting some part of it) ; 簡化; 簡稱


  • 中央情報局 簡稱 中情局 (the abbreviation of 中央情報局 is 中情局)

  • 美國 其實是 阿美利堅合眾國 的簡稱 (America is actually the abbreviation of United States of America)

  • 阿美利堅合眾國 (United States of America) 的 (首字母)缩写 是 USA

The difference between acronym and initialism is, you can read acronym as one word e.g. Mothers Against Drunk-driving = MAD. But you read each alphabet in an initialism

Basically 缩写 is a correct translation of all three terms

  • Yes I'm aware of the meanings of the three words in English. Acronym and initialism are different in English, are you saying that they don't differentiate between the two in Chinese? – Hasen Aug 30 '19 at 3:27
  • "Basically 缩写 is a correct translation of all three terms" That's the same as saying that 'abbreviation' is a correct description of all three terms in English though. Which is also true, they're all forms of abbreviation. But typically we use abbreviation to describe a word simply shortened. Like Application to App. – Hasen Aug 30 '19 at 3:29
  • @Hasen Chinese doesn't use alphabet therefore we don't really use(首字母)缩写. acronym and initialism are all the same to us. The main translation of "abbreviation" is "簡稱" (simplified name). But most Chinese would call (首字母)缩写 as "簡稱" too. For example, the correct statement should be "CIA 是 中央情報局的缩写" , but people don't care if you say "CIA 是 中央情報局的簡稱" – Tang Ho Aug 30 '19 at 3:53
  • Similarly, the correct statement should be "中央情報局 的 簡稱 是 中情局", but Chinese often say "中央情報局 的 缩写 是 中情局" – Tang Ho Aug 30 '19 at 4:01
  • "Chinese doesn't use alphabet" That's not correct at all. If it were, then none of these terms would exist. Chinese use the letters of the alphabet all over the place in fact, even though it's not strictly part of their language historically, it is a part of the modern language. And of course Chinese use the alphabet to refer to things like DVDs and such. I find Chinese and their language doesn't like to make distinctions between things (e.g. they use 羊 to refer to both goat and sheep) so it wouldn't surprise me if they did use 缩写 for everything. But for me I wanted to know what was correct. – Hasen Aug 31 '19 at 5:16

Here are Wikipedia's translations along with links to the correct articles.

Acronym = 首字母缩略字 -or- 首字母缩略词

Initialisms = 字母词

abbreviation = 缩写 -or- 省略 -or- 缩略语 -or- 缩写词

Colloquially though these would probably all just be referred to as some type of 缩写.

  • I've not come across 字母词 and had trouble finding it in the dictionary but it seems it may indeed be initialism. I also came across another word 首字母拚音词 which seems to mean acronym? Interesting. – Hasen Aug 30 '19 at 3:34
  • 字母词 can be found in quite a few dictionaries, ABC, CC-CEDICT, 规范 and 两岸 for instance all list it. 规范 also gives WTO as an example. It seems to also refer to Chinese words with Roman letters in them also. – Mou某 Aug 30 '19 at 4:16
  • Ok I see. It wasn't in the Bing.cn dictionary which is the largest Chinese dictionary in the world. Well it is there, but no example sentences so it made me wonder about that. Good that it's in other dictionaries at least though. Like I was saying in another comment, Chinese typically don't make distinctions between things that are relatively similar so I wouldn't be surprised if these words are not in general use...hence not in every dictionary. – Hasen Aug 31 '19 at 5:19

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