How do you transcribe a dialogue when abbreviations are used?

For example, when people uses acronyms like FBI or abbreviations like a.m., do we just write them as we write them when they're in a dialogue?

I am thinking FBI is FBI even if it's in a dialogue, but I am not sure about a.m.

For example:

"It's 4:00 a.m.." she said.

"It's four a em." she said.

To be honest, both look strange. Also, when would you transcribe the words or abbreviation or whatever else as they are pronounced?

2 Answers 2


AM and FBI are not abbreviations, they are acronyms.

We know to pronounce them letter by letter because they are fully capitalized. In some cases, they also have periods after each letter (with no spaces). Never ever sound them out (unless it's to show the character is saying them wrong).

"It's 4 AM," she said.

Note I fixed the punctuation and changed 4:00 to 4 because the former is pronounced "four o'clock."

"4AM" and "4am" and "4 am" are all acceptable variations (if you need to abide by a usage guide like APA or Chicago, they may have opinions on which ones are acceptable).

An abbreviation is pronounced like it appears, or occasionally will be said in full, depending on the context.

The feds are on to us!

"Feds" stands for "federal government officials" and is pronounced "feds."

Mrs. Smith's class was amazing this week.

"Mrs." was originally short for "mistress" but now is pronounced "missus." (Note that the American form uses a period but the British form does not.) Likewise, "Mr." is always pronounced "mister."

  • 2
    +1 I found your link to be very informative. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 5:09
  • 2
    Mrs. is spelled in long form Misses on both sides of the pond. Post 17th Century saw Mistress fall out of favor (ironically a man's Mistress is the woman he is having an affair with). If unknown, the address of Ms. or Miss is the polite default for a woman. Mrs./ Misses is always a married woman.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 18:56
  • Additional, some style guides recommend that Acronyms should be written as F.B.I. and A.M. when the letters are pronounced and not given the periods when spoken as a word like NATO or is a brand like BBC. This is mostly American English. And good luck with the Government and Acronyms... people in government seem to love Acronyms, the more forced the better.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 19:01
  • @hszmv For sure, it's complex. Mrs. was originally short for mistress but you're right it's never used in that context now. In the US it's never (or rarely) spelled out missis/missus ("how's the missus?" is one exception). Missus is a set of clothing sizes here. I agree with you about style guides but yeah they often do things most people don't do themselves. Also NATO (pronounced "NAY-toe" is one of a set of exceptions about pronouncing letters.
    – Cyn
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 22:39
  • 1
    @Cy: "Hows the missus" is spelt out because "Missus" is not the correct spelling of the word Misses and is indicating a more vernacular pronunciation. Ordinarily Americans will pronounce it as "MISS-es" not "MISS-us". Also, a common misconception is that the abreviation Mrs. is short for Mister's (woman being the word the Mister possesses). This is not etymologically correct and is only brought up by hard core feminists.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 13:36

What's interesting is writing for the "eye" vs "ear" -- for example, in the comic books, Wonder Woman is often called, both in dialog and captions, "WW" (a savings of 10 characters) -- but to SAY "doubleyou-doubleyou" is longer than Wonder Woman -- 6 syllables compared to 4.

Similarly "World Wide Web" "WWW" "dubdubdub" (save 12 characters, but go from 3 to 9 syllables if you say the letter fully, so then people re-abbreviated (?) the letter.

(And I know people with experience in the CIA and the CIA -- culinary institute of america and central intelligence agency)

So back to your question: Cyn's answer works for your specific instances. But this is yet another chance to show character:

  • Is the character a pompous guy? Maybe have him say "ante meridian" and debate anyone who gives a date as "BC" that it should be "BCE" (and "CE" instead of "AD"). (A more goofball variant is Bertram Wooster who says things like "It was far to A of the M for me to be fully awake." (Bertie often invents initialisms/acronyms
  • Is the character more like Shaggy from Scooby Doo? He'll probably say "dubdubdub" instead of "WWW" when giving a URL. He may declare contentment by naming the GIF he'd send if it were chat and not face-to-face: "Jon Stewart eating popcorn, man! Tell me what's going on before I explode!"
  • Is the character unfamiliar with the acronym or the group it represents? Maybe they say "N.O.A.A." instead of "No-ah" (for noaa.gov). "A.A.A." instead of Triple-A (automotive service). (It could be in reverse -- they may try to invent a pronunciation, like "Dough/D'oh" for DOE, which people familiar with it would call D-O-E." This could show a character new to that world -- a recent college grad?
  • Okay, I was with you until you declared BCE and CE as "pompous." You realize this is how us Jews do dates, right? It's our way of acknowledging that Christians got to choose the calendar numbering system but we're not going to praise Jesus every time we use it. "A.D." literally means "year of our Lord." I also insist on saying that "Cyn" is my "given name" or "first name." Others often say "Christian name." Yeah, no.
    – Cyn
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:18
  • I'm semi-Jewish -- I do it too! I just said "pompous" because 1) i'm writing quickly earlyish in the morning 2) I have been called pompous or some other words about being overly-precise for using that term. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:34

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