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Your correspondent must be able to understand what you have written. Confusion in correspondence often arises through a lack of thought and care, and there are a number of ways in which this can happen.

Abbreviations and initials

Abbreviations can be useful because they are quick to write and easy to read. But both correspondents need to know what the abbreviations stand for.

The abbreviations CIF and FOB, for example, are INCOTERMS which mean, respectively, Cost, Insurance, and Freight and Free On Board. But can you be sure that your correspondent knows that p & p means ‘postage and packing’?

Some international organizations, e.g. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), are known in all countries by the same set of initials, but many are not. e.g. EU (European Union) and UN (United Nations). National organizations, e.g. in the UK, CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and TUC (Trades Union Congress), are unlikely to be familiar to correspondents in other countries.

A range of abbreviations are used in email correspondence, but many of them are not widely known. If you are not absolutely certain that an abbreviation or set of initials will be easily recognized, it is best not to use it.

Abbreviations like LtdorCorp.often appear after the names of businesses. They are usually required by law and tell you something about the type of company that has been established.

Ltd– (Limited, UK) – a company that is owned by a small number of people, often members of a family, and can be run by a single person

plc– (Public limited company, UK) – a large company that can sell its shares to the public and has a board of directors

LLC– (Limited liability company, US) – a company owned by a group of people who usually also run the business

AG– (Aktiengesellschaft, Germany) – a large company that can sell shares to the public and is run by a group of managers

GmbH– (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, Germany) – a company with one or a number of shareholders. It cannot sell shares to the public

Pty– (Proprietary, Australia and South Africa) – used in for companies that are owned by a small number of people

SA– (Société anonyme (à responsabilité limitée), France and Spain) – a large company that can sell shares to the public and is run by a board of directors

SARL– (Société à Responsabilité Limitée, France and Switzerland) – a company with a small number of shareholders

SpA– (Societa per Azioni, Italy) – a company with one or a number of shareholders. It can sell shares to the public and is run by a board of directors or group of managers

abusiness organization that has been officially

Co. – (Company, US) created (incorporated) and is owned by shareholdersInc.– (Incorporated, US) (these abbreviations indicate that a business is a

Corp.– (Corporation, US) company but give no information about its size, number of shareholders or management).


Sometimes the use of figures instead of words for dates can create problems.

Numerical expressions can also cause confusion. For example, the decimal point in British and American usage is a full stop, but a comma is used in most continental European countries, so that a British or American person would write 4.255 where a French person would write 4,255 (which to a British or American person would mean four thousand two hundred and fifty-five).

If there is the possibility of confusion, write the expression in both figures and words, e.g. £10,575.90 (ten thousand five hundred and seventy-five pounds, ninety pence).

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