Can You Use Abbreviations in Scrabble?

Scrabble letters spelling the acronym SCUBA

Photo taken by Beth Wiggins for WordFinder

The short answer is "no." Officially, abbreviations do not count as words and are not allowed in Scrabble. Short words are disproportionately powerful in Scrabble, allowing for multi-word plays that can alter the whole strategy of play. The Gaming Powers That Be are leery of adding new ones. The longer answer is "no, with a few exceptions that canny players can use to their advantage." Read on to find abbreviation-related tools for Scrabble mastery.

Some Acronyms Are OK

One of the biggest exceptions to the "no abbreviations" rule in Scrabble has to do with acronyms. In theory, acronyms are abbreviations and are therefore unplayable. In practice, there's leeway. It's not absolute, and most acronyms aren't valid plays: you can't just slap down YOLO or NASA without a potential challenge and loss of your turn.

The trick is to find the acronyms everyone forgets aren't words. LASER and MASER (it's like a laser, but microwaves are emitted rather than light), SCUBA and SONAR, LIDAR, RADAR, and even the potty-mouthed SNAFU are all perfectly playable.

Scientific and Military Acronyms

Close readers may have noticed that many of Scrabble's playable acronyms have a scientific or military origin. That carries over to other abbreviations as well. KILO and KBAR (short for kilobar, a measurement of pressure) are both playable. So is radio terminology like MAYDAY and WILCO, as well as general military slang like AWOL.

Finally, the world's most popular abbreviation has its origin in this scrappy Officialese. Indeed, some linguists believe the humble affirmative OK to be the world's most popular word, occurring in a dozen spoken languages. It spread largely through US military slang and, more importantly to our purposes, it's 100 percent legal in Scrabble.

Make sure you have a dictionary that's up to date, though; OK only got added in 2018.

Stealth Words in Play

This is less an exception than a mental trick: learn the words that closely resemble the abbreviation of your dreams.

  • You can't play "min," but you can play NIM. That's a pun, son.

  • Got a sweet spot for "aka" to slip into? The abbreviation may not be Scrabble-legal, but AA and KA both are.

  • How about "e.g."? An extra E or G will give you EGG or GEE.

  • Some words beat the abbreviation trap without modification: BOLO is illegal as the law enforcement abbreviation "Be On Look Out," but it is welcome as a nasty knife, natty necktie or thrown hunting weapon.

  • EST, which is right out as "short for estimate" or "acronym of Eastern Standard Time," is playable as a meditation technique.

Keep It Short

Abbreviations are a living part of language. The simple act of shortening a word for ease of use shows that speakers and writers expect to use it. As noted above, many common words in conversational English are abbreviations in one sense or another. A little bit of reading and some lateral thinking will set you up with legal abbreviations in Scrabble.

Finally, there's one more trick to playing abbreviations in Scrabble: don't play Scrabble. If you don't mind getting digital, its close cousin Words With Friends allows a much wider array of abbreviations to play. Take a look at WordFinder's slang you can use in Words With Friends to get started..

Matt Salter has been a professional writer for over 10 years. He is a gaming and technology expert, and world-class word nerd.


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