As I slowly try to learn more grammar and less "1001 survival phrases in Japanese FREE!," I started wondering about abbreviations in the language.

From what I have read so far, contractions and word-shortening happens in a much different way than it does in English. It seems long words almost become portmanteaus? I wasn't able to find any information on how common things such as 高校 (for 高等学校) or スマホ (for スマートフォン) are used/when they are appropriate.

This question started with me wondering whether Japanese has anything similar to the English "cont." or "cont'd"

(I'm from Canada so I'm not sure how these abbreviations are done in U.S/EU)... but then I also started wondering about "Mrs." and "can't/won't" and well... "etc." :)


I think there is no formal research about abbreviation of Japanese vocabularies; however some people who are involved into Japanese language education for non-native speakers seem to have tried to explain how Japanese native speakers make abbreviations for Japanese words.

I found some articles:

Please read them for further information.

The following description is merely an explanation from my personal observation so there should be some points to be corrected.

Usually Japanese words are abbreviated into four syllables. If it is impossible to abbreviate into four syllables by some reason, then try three syllables. Finally if it is also impossible to abbreviate into three syllables, then abbreviated it into two syllables.

I listed up some examples below :

  • Words which are abbreviated into four syllables

    • 吉野家{よしのや}の牛丼{ぎゅうどん} → よしぎゅう
    • ポケット・モンスター → ポケモン
    • 鋼{はがね}の錬金術師{れんきんじゅつし} → ハガレン
    • こちら葛飾区{かつしかく} 亀有{かめあり} 公園前{こうえんまえ} 派出所{はしゅつじょ} → こち亀{かめ}
    • ベルサイユのバラ → ベルバラ
    • 魔法少女{まほうしょうじょ}まどか☆マギカ → まどマギ
    • 黒子{くろこ}のバスケ → 黒{くろ}バス
    • 魔女{まじょ}の宅急便{たっきゅうびん} → 魔女宅{まじょたく}
    • 東京電力{とうきょうでんりょく} → 東電{とうでん}
  • Words which are abbreviated into three syllables

    • アイスコーヒー → アイコ
    • コストパフォーマンス → コスパ
    • 軍用手袋{ぐんようてぶくろ} → 軍手{ぐんて}
    • マクドナルド → マック
  • Words which are abbreviated into two syllables

    • 新世紀{しんせいき}エヴァンゲリオン → エヴァ
    • リプライ → リプ

Note that yo:on 拗音{ようおん} ( a kana letter which is followed by a small kana letter such as じゃ/じゅ/じょ) are considered as one syllable.

As you can notice, most words are abbreviated into four syllables. It is unclear even for me when it should be abbreviated into three or two syllables and why. (I am actually a native Tokyo dialect speaker but I also cannot tell why and how).

The way how to decide four, three or two syllables to abbreviate may be out of social coincidental occurrence or it has some benefits when they make rhyming catch phrase etc. which reason is not clearly defined.

For example, マクドナルド(McDonald) could be abbreviated into four; it could be マクドナ, but there is no one to call it like that. In fact, マクドナルド is abbreviated into three in 関西(West Japan) districts as マクド. In Tokyo, it is usually abbreviated as マック.

Generally the words which consist two or more clauses are get abbreviated by taking two syllables from each word's head and bring them into the abbreviated word. For example:

  1. ポケットモンスター
  2. ポケット モンスター
  3. ポケ   モン
  4. ポケモン

There are a lot of exceptions in it: for example, the word サラリーマン has two parts of clauses as サラリー/マン , but it does not come into サラマン or something, it is usually abbreviated as リーマン which forms an irregular abbreviation.

But in most case, I think it is enough to know the way how four syllable abbreviations are achieved.


Your question is very broad, but I can try to address it a little.

first, 高校 - if you look at the kanji, they literally mean high and school. as opposed to 高等学校, where the kanji mean high, level, learning, school. So the abbreviation makes sense. A similar abbreviation is 自動販売機 (vending machine) which abbreviates to 自販機. If you look up the meaning of the kanji you will see how this works. There are tons of words like this, but I am not aware of any rules or patterns for them.

I am also not aware of any abbreviations for cont'd/Mr/Mrs etc... likely because they are already short, さん、さま、くん etc.


It seems long words almost become portmanteaus? I wasn't able to find any information on how common things such as 高校 (for 高等学校) or スマホ (for スマートフォン) are used/when they are appropriate.

Some may become almost portmanteaus, as you pointed out, but there's no strict rule. In general, commonly used words that take a relatively long time to say get an "optional evolution" of a phonetically easier abbreviation.

As far as usage, there's nothing wrong with using the full version of a word if in doubt. Abbreviated versions are generally used in colloquial settings such as among friends, when you ask questions to store clerks while shopping, or in ads, for example.


In any language, hit count on Google search is a good indication of how common an expression is. For example, 高等学校 hits about 24 million times, while 高校 hits 114 millions (when search preference is on the Japanese). Here it's clear that 高校 is much commoner in general usage.

  • Please take a look at japanese.meta.stackexchange.com/q/522/1628 – Earthliŋ Apr 19 '18 at 9:44
  • I did the search (高校 and 高等学校)again just now, and got the same hit counts(114M and 24M hits respectively). If Google search had some bias, it will have similar effects on similar expressions with similar meanings. So it's useful at least as a rough estimate. As a side note,「られてられて」used in the quoted argument is a very unnatural expression. – hnishy Apr 20 '18 at 3:41
  • (continued) And this hit ratio meet well with my experience as a native speaker -- I would use 高等学校 only in my curriculum vitae or some official documents. – hnishy Apr 20 '18 at 3:53

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