Sunday 5 October 2008

Cryptic Abbreviations

Many words/phrases that appear in cryptic clues have standard abbreviations associated with them. Saint for example is ST, operating system is OS and book is NT or OT (for new/old testament).

Abbreviations are used to substitute bits and pieces of the solution. They can appear in a variety of clue forms such as charades, deletions, containers or anagrams. Take this for example:
Pilot goes about a mile in vessel (7) STE{A M}ER
This is a container clue that uses the contraction M for mile.

Another one:
Fragrant drops born from a dreamer (8) A ROMA{-n}TIC
This is a combination of charade and deletion. It uses the contraction N for born (nee).

Common Abbreviation Types

Cryptic abbreviations originate from a wide range of subjects – mathematics, geography, medicine, to name a few. The table below lists the most common types found in crosswords.

Category Instances Remarks
Places ISO Country Codes – CH (Switzerland), ES (Spain), etc.
USPS codes of the states of USA - AL, CA, SC, etc.
City short names – NY, LA, LON

For Indian crosswords, the short notations of multi-word Indian states - UP, MP, TN.
You need not remember all short codes, just the ones that easily form other words. So, if you see a clue that goes: "Withdraw from American state by a small measure (6)", the American state referred is more likely to be Florida (FL) than West Virginia (WV).
Famous personalities Lincoln = ABE
Indian crosswords also use abbreviations for Indian celebrities, such as Rajaji = CR and NT Rama Rao = NTR
Roman numerals 1-10 (I-X), 50 (L), 100 (C), 1000 (M) Remember those that can be part of meaningful words. The abbreviation for 2000 (MM) has a chance, 1999 (MCMXCIX) not much.
Element periodic table Hydrogen=H, Iron=Fe, Aluminum=Al Elements at the start of the periodic table are used more than those at the end.
Positions and Directions Points – N, S, E, W
Corners – NE, NW, SE, SW
Poles – N, S
Units of Measurement Weights – G, LB
Currencies – USD, L
Length – FT, M
Time – S, M, MI, H, HR
Short forms for a range of dimensions like area, temperature, speed, etc.
Musical notations Keys – A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Solfege syllables – DO, RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI
Calendar Days of the week – SUN to SAT
Months – JAN to DEC
About – Circa: C, CA

Online Abbreviation Lists

Here's a good online resource for crossword abbreviations. It doesn't touch upon every abbreviation possible but it does cover wide ground:

Wikipedia's List 

If you're new to cryptic crosswords this might seem overwhelming at first, but keep doing crosswords for some time and you'll soon know them well.


  • The same word may have more than one abbreviation e.g. Sailor can be AB or TAR, queen may be Q, ER or HM, gold can can AU or OR (in heraldry). You need to read the entire clue along with its crossings to decide which fits.

  • The clue may not give you a direct abbreviation but a wider range for substitution. e.g. metal can stand for any metal abbreviation - Fe, Al, Ni,etc.

  • At times you might think a standard short form is to be substituted, when actually no substitution is to be made. Take the clue "Instruct an artist in metal (5) T{RA}IN". Metal here stands for the actual metal name TIN and not its short form Sn.

  • A word commonly used for abbreviation substitution need not always be so. e.g. If you see the word doctor in the clue, don't immediately think of replacing it with MO, DR etc. - 'doctor' could be an anagram indicator.

  • A good clue would rarely be made up entirely of abbreviations. Only short sections of the clue would use them.

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Raghunath said...


Fragrant drops born from a dreamer (8) A ROMA{-n}TIC
This is a combination of charade and deletion. It uses the contraction N for born (nee).

How does the TIC figure?

Shuchi said...

a dreamer = A ROMANTIC.
Fragrant is the definition, which drops born (N) from a dreamer (AROMAnTIC), to get the solution (AROMATIC).

Raghunath said...


Born N is Nee? Sorry topost this one so late.

Shuchi said...

Yes it is.

Unknown said...

I'm from the U.S. and just found your website. What a wonderful resource to promote both understanding of the way cryptic crosswords work as well as help explain the lateral thinking skills needed to complete them. I'm certainly going to keep coming back here to learn more.

Thank you!!