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Once you learn that Estados Unidos is Spanish for "United States," you might predict that its abbreviation would be EU, just as we often use "U.S." (or "USA") in English. But the standard abbreviation is EE. UU.
The Rule for Plural Abbreviations
Although the abbreviation may seem unusual to Spanish students, abbreviations like it are common in standard written Spanish when shortening plural forms. Although the use of the periods in the abbreviation is standard usage and considered mandatory by some authorities, it isn't unusual to see the abbreviation without the periods: EEUU or EE UU. Sometimes the abbreviation EUA (for Estados Unidos de América) is used, and even USA can be found in trendy circles.
Basically, the doubled letters (such abbreviations are called abreviaturas dobles in Spanish) are used to indicate that the main word abbreviated is plural. However, such a doubling of letters isn't if the plural word isn't the main noun in the phrase. For example, Organización de las Naciones Unidas (United Nations) is ONU ("U.N." in English.) The main noun here, the one that gives the phrase its gender, is singular: organización.
The doubling of letters comes from Latin, which explains some of the double-letter Latin abbreviations used in English also, such as "pp." for "pages" and "mss." for "manuscripts." Identical abbreviations are used in Spanish: pp. for páginas and mss. for manuscritos. (Also commonly used is págs. for páginas.)
Such doubling is used typically when a single letter stands for a word. It isn't used used for most other abbreviations. For example, while ejemplo (example) can be abbreviated as ej., the plural form (that is, for "examples") is ejs. Similarly, while usted (singular you) is abbreviated Ud., its plural form (plural you) is Uds.
One of the exceptions is that the abbreviation for Buenos Aires (the city in Argentina) is Bs. As.
Other Doubled Abbreviations
Here are some of the other Spanish abbreviations that double the letters in the same way as EE. UU.:
- AA. PP. for Administración Pública (public administration)
- aa. vv. or AA. VV. for autores varios (various authors); VV. AA. and vv. aa. are also used
- AA. VV. for asociaciones de vecinos (neighborhood associations)
- CC. AA. for comunidades autónomas (self-governing communities)
- CC. OO. for comisiones obreros (labor commissions)
- DD. HH. for derechos humans (human rights)
- FF. AA. for Fuerzas Armadas (armed forces, used in Spanish and several Latin American countries)
- FF. CC. for ferrocarriles (railways or RR)
- FF. DD. for Fuerzas de Defensa (Defense Forces, used primarily in Panama)
- RR. HH. for Recursos Humanos (human resources or HR)
- RR. PP. for Relaciones Públicas (public relations or PR)
- JJ. OO. for Juegos Olímpicos (Olympic Games)
- RR for reverendos (Reverends, Revs.)
- ss. for por siguientes (as follows, the following)
- SS. AA. for Sus Altezas (Your Highnesses)
- SS. HH. for Servicios Higiénicos (sanitary facilities, such as restrooms)
- SS. MM. for Sus Majestades (Your Majesties)
Other Unusual Abbreviations
Spanish also has a few common abbreviations that use punctuation (other than the period) or superscripts in ways that English doesn't. The more common ones are listed below; in many cases, more conventional forms are often used in addition to these.
- arto for artículo (article in legal documents)
- Bo for barrio (neighborhood)
- Cía for compañía (company)
- c/u for cada uno (apiece, per unit)
- com.ón for comisión (commission)
- desct.o for descuento (discount)
- N.a S.a for Nuestra Señora (Our Lady, referring to the Virgin Mary)
- s/f for sin fecha (no date given)
- s/l for sin lugar (no place given)
- s/n for sin número (no number given)
Additionally, there are some forms such as Abg.da and Dr.a that have been used to refer to a female lawyer or doctor, respectively, although these are growing in disfavor.
- The standard abbreviation for Estados Unidos (United States) in Spanish is EE. UU., although variations are sometimes used.
- The double letters are used in some other abbreviations as well when a single letter standards for a plural of the main noun.
- Some Spanish abbreviations use slashes and superscripts.