Chicago Style Workout 79: Some Technical Abbreviations

Pierre and Marie Curie in the laboratory

Learning by Degrees

Even writers and editors who work with nontechnical documents will encounter the occasional abbreviated unit of measure or other abbreviation from the sciences. Knowing some basic conventions about such expressions will help you spot potential errors.

To test your knowledge, take the quiz. And if you haven’t taken it yet, try our quiz on scholarly abbreviations.

Subscribers to The Chicago Manual of Style Online may click through to the linked sections of the Manual (cited in the answers). (We also offer a 30-day free trial of CMOS Online.)

Note: Style guides sometimes disagree. Except for a few details that can be verified in standard dictionaries and encyclopedias and other readily available sources, the answers in this quiz rely on the information in the 17th edition of CMOS.

Chicago Style Workout 79: Some Technical Abbreviations

1. In the sciences, standard abbreviations for units of measure are known as
2. Abbreviations for units of measure add an s in the plural—for example, 1 kg but 2 kgs (for one and two kilograms, respectively).
3. What is the abbreviation for ampere (the unit of electric current)?
4. The abbreviation for curie (the unit of radioactivity) is Ci. Why is the C capitalized?
5. The abbreviation for liter is L. Why is the L capitalized?
6. What is the abbreviation for decibel (the unit of loudness)?
7. In formal scientific usage, there’s a space before but not after the degree sign (°) in temperatures: 8 °C.
8. Which of the following is an abbreviation for cubic centimeter?
9. How is erg (the unit of work) normally abbreviated?
10. The abbreviation for byte is commonly written as a capital B and bit as a lowercase b, as in MB (megabyte) and Mb (megabit).
11. Bonus question: Why is the International System of Units abbreviated SI and not IS?


Marie and Pierre Curie using equipment in their Paris laboratory (ca. 1900), cropped for post. Courtesy Wellcome Collection, public domain.

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2 thoughts on “Chicago Style Workout 79: Some Technical Abbreviations

  1. So, I only missed question 7 — but it apparently isn’t testing my knowledge of Chicago style at all.

    “So “8 °C” is SI style, but in Chicago style—and in most North American publications—no space appears before a degree sign: 8°C. Ditto percentages: 8% (though Chicago style would normally spell out percent: 8 percent).”

    C’mon, guys! 🙄

    • We agree that question 7 is a little sneaky (perhaps we should’ve provided a stronger clue). But we do cover SI style in CMOS, if only briefly—and if only to prepare our readers for what they may find in contexts that don’t necessarily follow Chicago style. Congrats on your excellent score!

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