abbr vs acronym

There appears to be quite some confusion between web developers the difference between the tags <abbr> and <acronym>. To clear up this confusion let me explain the difference as best I can. The W3C describes the two as:

  • ABBR - Indicates an abbreviated form (e.g., WWW, HTTP, URI, Mass., etc.).
  • ACRONYM - Indicates an acronym (e.g., WAC, radar, etc.).

In Layman's terms the difference lies in the way the term is pronounced. An abbreviation represents a term spoken in individual characters, such as H.T.M.L ("haych-tee-em-el"). An acronym however, is a term spoken as it is spelt, such as DOM. DOM stands for Document Object Model, and is pronounced "dom", not "D.O.M" ("dee-ooh-em").

We all love Internet Explorer 6

Sadly there is one other thing that separates <abbr> from <acronym>. Internet Explorer does not recognise the <abbr> tag. Now why the IE team chose to not include this feature is beyond my guesswork. However it is something we as web designers have to take into account to understand exactly how our scripts will be rendered and understood. I personally use the <abbr> tag anyway. Whilst <acronym> is still standards compliant I feel that <abbr> is a more encompassing element. In addition to this, the lack of IE support for this tag does not affect the final outcome of the document in IE, it is simply ignored.

Dated: 28/07/2006. Filed under: Web Design.


On 29th July 2006 Rik Lomas said:
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Just to let you know all acronyms by their nature are abbreviations [] and for future W3C standards, there will be no acronym tags, just abbr tags.
On 29th July 2006 Damien said:
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Fuck Internet Explorer!
On 29th July 2006 Steve Tucker said:
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@Rik: Well made point. Acronyms are a more descriptive form of abbreviation. True as well about the second point you made; there is speculation that acronym tags are going to be phased out.

@Damian: I wish I could but my clients dont share the same opinion! ;)
On 30th July 2006 Elessar said:
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Fuck your clients! J/k...i honestly dont know how i managed to 'surf the web' prior to Firefox. The simplicity of things such as tabs and extensions and themes seperate it from IE6 by miles.

And then the memory usage is MORE than FF, which is sadly saying a lot, but hopefully Firefox 2.0 fixes that.

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