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Cryptic abbreviations

Many cryptic clues use abbreviations. They are a common way that cryptic setters add one or a few letters to the wordplay.

Abbreviations are often a stumbling block for solvers, especially those just starting out in this weird cryptic crossword world.

For the most comprehensive and searchable list of cryptic abbreviations currently available in app form, with explanations, check out my CrypticGuide app.

Download on the App Store


Many abbreviations are common, and you will already know them: northN, femaleF, yesY, for example. These sorts of abbreviations are included in any dictionary.

Some abbreviations, however, are less obvious. There are international car licence plate codes, the phonetic alphabet, cricketing terms, and Roman numerals. These are in the dictionary, but if you aren’t aware of them to start with, what hope have you got? I have included some of these in the list below.

There are a plethora of what I can only call weird abbreviations too, which are used in British cryptics, in particular. Many of these have come from days long gone by, and are firmly rooted in UK public school and wartime life. They are rather incomprehensible to anyone who didn't grow up in the UK during the 1940s and 50s. I have listed some of these below to help you out.

How to spot abbreviations in clues

The main trick with finding any abbreviations in a cryptic clue is to look at each word in a clue one by one, and check whether it could lead to an abbreviation. Any given word may lead to an abbreviation, be an indicator word, another part of the wordplay, or part of the clue definition, so you need to gather all possible interpretations as you go!


Chemical Symbols

This is a subset of the more commonly used chemical symbols found in cryptic clues. While correct chemical symbol usage is that the second letter is lower case (Au), for this list I’m setting them all in capitals (AU), to highlight that both letters are to be used in the clue’s wordplay.

AluminumAL
ArgonAR
BariumBA
BoronB
CalciumCA
CarbonC
ChlorineCL
ChromiumCR
CobaltCO
CopperCU
FluorineF
GoldAU
HeliumHE
HydrogenH
Iron FE
LithiumLI
NeonNE
NickelNI
NitrogenN
OxygenO
PotassiumK
SiliconSI
SilverAG
SodiumNA
TinSN
UraniumU


Country Codes

There are both international country codes, and international car registration codes used on licence plates. This list below only has a few of them. If a cryptic clue mentions a country, it’s worth checking its entry in a dictionary or Wikipedia to see what its country code is.

AlbaniaAL or ALB
AustraliaAUS, AU, or OZ
BelgiumBEL or BE
Bolivia BO or BOL
BrazilBR or BRA
CubaCU or CUB
FinlandFI or FIN
GermanyDE or DEU
GreeceGRC, GR, or GRE
IndiaIN or IND
ItalyIT or ITA
MalaysiaMY or MYS
New ZealandNZL or NZ
Peru PE or PER
SomaliaSO or SOM
SwitzerlandCHE, CH, SUI, or SWI
United KingdomGBR or UK
United StatesUSA or US
YemenYE or YEM


States

Generally these are American, but your local states may also be included. I’ve included the USA and Australian states and territories on this list. Keep in mind that Canadian, British, and Indian states or county abbreviations can be used too, if that’s where your cryptic crossword is published. I've just included a few here to give you the idea:

Alaska AK
Arizona AZ
Australian Capital TerritoryACT
ColoradoCO
DelawareDE
FloridaFL
HawaiiHI
IllinoisIL
KentuckyKY
LouisianaLA
MassachusettsMA
MichiganMI
NevadaNV
New YorkNY
Northern TerritoryNT
OklahomaOK
OregonOR
PennsylvaniaPA
South AustraliaSA
TasmaniaTAS
TexasTX
UtahUT
VictoriaVIC
WashingtonWA
Western AustraliaWA
WisconsinWI


Cricketing Terms

That most British of sports, cricket, has lent many abbreviations to cryptic clues.

battingIN
bowledB
caughtC
centuryC
duck O ( no runs)
inningI
maidenM
no ballNB
not outNO
overO
runR
wicketW


Greek Letters

I’ve just listed the shorter ones, as these are more likely to be included in a clue.

CHI
ETA
MU
NU
PHI
PI
PSI
RHO
TAU
XI


Latin Terms

Again, this is a list of some of the more common Latin abbreviations that you will be familiar with.

about, aroundCA
againstVS
around, about, approx.C (circa)
by the dayPD (per diem)
in this matter, concerning, aboutRE
note wellNB
seeCF
that isIE (id est)
the sameID
thusSIC
without issue (children)SP (sine prole)


Roman Numerals

1I
4IV
5V
6VI
10X
11XI
50L
51LI
100C
101CI
150CL
151CLI
500D
501DI
1,000M
1,001MI

The uncommon medieval Roman numerals are occasionally used too. These developed during the Middle Ages, to provide easier ways of writing large numbers. These were used in conjunction with the standard Roman numerals listed above. They are listed in full in CrypticGuide.


NATO phonetic alphabet

The phonetic alphabet is very popular in cryptic clues. It was first developed during World War I, to help in clear radio communication. This spelling alphabet has been adopted around the world. There have been various versions over time, but the following is the one that is generally used in cryptic clues.
alfa / alphaA
bravoB
CharlieC
deltaD
echoE
foxtrotF
golfG
hotelH
IndiaI
JulietJ
kiloK
LimaL
MikeM
NovemberN
OscarO
papaP
QubecQ
RomeoR
sierraS
tangoT
uniformU
victorV
whiskeyW
x-rayX
YankeeY
ZuluZ


Lesson common or downright weird abbreviations

aceAI (as in A1, the number 1 is read as letter I)
alienET
ancient cityUR
articleA, AN, THE
artistsRA (for Royal Academy)
beginnerL (for L-plate on a car)
bendS or U (for S-bend, U-bend)
bigOS (outsized)
billIOU (I owe you)
bishopB (chess)
blood groupA, B, AB, O
bobS (for shilling)
booksOT, NT (for Old Testament, New Testament)
bridge playerN, S, E, W (seating)
castleR (rook in chess)
circle, circuitO
clefC, F
currentAC, DC
dayD or V (Victory Day)
discO (it looks like a disc), LP, CD
dollarS (similar to $)
eggO (similar shape)
firmCO (company)
first classA or AI (A1)
formerEX
forteF
French artES (I am, thou art, Je suis, tu es, can you believe it?)
gasCO (carbon monoxide), HE (helium) etc
goodA (as in A Grade), G
handAB (see sailor), L, R
hardH (pencil)
high classU (from upper class)
journalistED (editor)
keyA, B, C, D, E, F, G (music)
kingER (Edwardus Rex), R (Rex), K (chess)
kissX
knightN (chess)
loudF (forte)
loveO (tennis score of zero)
measure/printer’s measureEN, EM
modelT (for Model T Ford)
noviceL (learner)
old boyOB
old cityUR
Old EnglishOE
pawnP (chess)
playing, performingON (on stage)
poleN, S
quarterN, S, E, W
queenER (Elizabetha Regina), R (Regina), Q (chess)
quietP, PP, SH, MUM
railwayRY, BR (British Rail)
riverR
rookR (chess)
roundO
Royal NavyRN
sailorTAR, AB (for able-bodied seaman), OS (ordinary seaman)
saintST
saltAB (see sailor)
SaturdayS
scholarBA
secondS
shipSS
silenceSH, MUM
six-footerANT, BEE, etc (an insect has six legs)
softP (piano), B (pencil)
soldierGI, RM (Royal Marines)
statestate abbreviation, often from USA
streetST, AVE, RD, WAY
stringsE, A, D, or G (violin strings)
studentL (learner)
supportBRA
tarAB (see sailor)
teasTT
timesX (multiplication)
turnU (U-turn)
universityU, OU (Open University)
unknownX, Y, Z (unknowns in equations)
upper classU (rather dated!)
variableX, Y, or Z (see unknown)
very loudFF (fortissimo)
very softPP (pianissimo)
vitaminA, B, C, D, E, BI (B1)
workerANT, BEE

Words from other languages

These are some of the foreign words commonly seen in cryptic crossword clues. The answers will probably be words you already know. They tend to be very short words.

French seems to be the most popular language used in cryptic clues. I think that this is because the spelling of short French words fits well into subsections of English words, more than in other languages.


French

a / the / articlesUN, UNE, LA, LE, or LES
andET
at / in / toAU
from / ofDE, DU, DES
goldOR
goodBON
heIL
IJE
inEN
isEST
kingROI
man / menM (Monsieur), MM (Messieurs)
noNON
notPAS
nudeNU
ofDE, DES
onSUR
oneUN, UNE
said / sayDIT
seaMER
sheELLE
thatCA, CELA
waterEAU
weNOUS
whatQUE
whereOU
wordMOT
yesOUI
youTU, VOUS


German

a / anEIN, EINE, EINER
andUND
IICH
heER
itES
noNEIN
oneEIN
sheSIE
the / this / thatDER, DIE, DAS
theySIE
weWIR
whereWO
withMIT
yesJA
youDU, SIE


Italian

a / an/ articlesUN, UNO, UNA, IL
butMA
eastEST
IIO
I wasERO
ifSE
notNON
of theDEL
oneUNA, UNO
sixSEI
southSUD
theIL
threeTRE
twoDUE
whoCHI
yesSI
youTU


Spanish

a, anUN, UNA
articlesEL, LA, LAS, LOS
exclamationOLE
gentlemanDON
heroCID (El Cid)
IYO
I amSOY
myMI
noblemanDON
oneUNO
thatESE, ESA
thousandMIL
twoDOS
whatQUE
yesSI
you, yourTU

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