The Plural and Possessive Forms of Abbreviations
Abbreviations of all kinds are used frequently and sometimes extensively in academic and especially scientific writing. Most scholarly authors realise that each abbreviation must be carefully defined for readers when it is first introduced, be distinct from all other abbreviations in a document and be used consistently if it is to succeed in effectively representing the word or phrase it replaces. However, even some writers who follow such sound practices will at times neglect the additions necessary to indicate when the concepts represented by abbreviations are plural or possessive in nature.
Standard abbreviations for weights and measures rarely present a challenge because they tend to take the same form in both the singular and the plural, so the abbreviation to indicate ‘1 kilogram’ or ‘10 kilograms’ is the same: ‘1 kg’ and ‘10 kg,’ never ‘10 kgs.’ Similarly, the abbreviation for ‘3 metres’ is ‘3 m,’ not ‘3 ms,’ and it is important not to add the ‘s’ because ‘3 ms’ actually means ‘3 milliseconds.’ An ‘s’ is sometimes added to the abbreviation ‘yr’ when the plural is required, with ‘yrs’ representing ‘years,’ and the plural of ‘hour’ can be represented by ‘h’ (especially in scientific contexts), ‘hr’ or ‘hrs.’ The key when more than one form of an abbreviation is possible is to choose the one that suits your needs and use it consistently throughout a document: ‘hr’ always representing hour and ‘hrs’ always representing hours, for instance.
In most cases, nonstandard abbreviations require separate plural forms, so if you need to use both the singular and plural forms of an abbreviated term in a document, you will need to adopt a separate plural form. If the abbreviation is relatively common or has been used elsewhere, it is wise to adopt the form that is generally used in your discipline, but if you are creating new abbreviations for concepts in your research and writing, you will have to devise your own plural forms as well. To form the plural of most abbreviations an ‘s’ is simply added to the end of the abbreviation, just as it is with most English words. ‘NGO’ therefore becomes ‘NGOs’ and ‘DVD’ becomes ‘DVDs.’ The plurals of some abbreviations are formed unusually by doubling a letter, with ‘f.’ for ‘following’ becoming ‘ff.’ when the sense is plural and ‘p.’ for ‘page’ becoming ‘pp.’
Agreement should always be maintained between the nouns represented by abbreviations and the verbs used with them, just as it would be were the terms not abbreviated, so if an abbreviation is plural, the plural forms of any verbs associated with it must be used. ‘The NGOs is working’ would never be correct and should be altered to ‘the NGOs are working.’
An apostrophe should not be added to an abbreviation to form its plural, but an apostrophe along with an ‘s’ is used for possessive forms of abbreviations whether they are singular or plural. ‘That NGO’s mission is complicated’ shows the correct form for the singular possessive, while ‘those NGOs’ efforts were appreciated’ shows the proper form for the plural possessive.
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