A Complete Guide to Texting in English

Texting in English can be a headache! Conversations can move quickly and what do all these abbreviations mean? Read to learn how to text in English!

A Complete Guide to Texting in English

Everyone knows about texting. You've probably done it today!

According to a Pew Research study, over 90% of young adults aged 18-24 own a phone. Sending off a quick SMS or message over social media is so common these days, it'd be hard to find anyone who hasn't sent a text message.

But texting in English can be a headache! Conversations can move quickly, leaving you without much time to decipher what all the abbreviations and subtle nuances mean!

Sure, we all know Idk, my bff Jill, right? But what about all those other abbreviations? Emoticons? Punctuation? You might be thinking, what if I'm missing something?!

Not to worry! After reading this complete guide to texting in English, you'll know not only how to read someone's slang, but how to text in a way that feels natural and easy.

man looking at a computer confused

Why Are There so Many Abbreviations?

Back in the old days, when texting was in its infancy, you didn't have the option to send essays on your phone. Messages were capped at 160 characters--barely more than a sentence! Second, most phones came with the T9 keyboard, which required pressing several times to get the right letter.

Needless to say, texting messages needed to be brief. Before long, the most famous and recognizable texting abbreviations came about-- like IDK (I don't know) or LOL (laugh out loud).

Nowadays, these abbreviations are so common it can feel strange not to type them. But abbreviations are still pretty informal, so using them depends on the context! It's important to remember your texting etiquette.

Are you texting your boss to tell her you're on your way? Or are you texting your girlfriend to ask how her day is going?

We know from Kelsey's article on using slang that using slang and informal language when it's not appropriate is a recipe for disaster. Be mindful of who you're texting and what the situation calls for!

If you don't know the other person well, especially if they are a boss or client, you shouldn't be texting them "Lol thx! C u l8r."

Likewise, texting formally to a friend might come off stiff or insincere. We'll get more into that later, but first, let's discuss some common texting slang and what they mean.

two children texting together

Texting Slang and Abbreviations

Here are some of the most common texting slang phrases and abbreviations, organized into categories.

Common Slang:

afaik - As far as I know.
Ex. afaik the paper hasn't come in yet.

btw - By the way.
Ex: btw I saw your post! Looks fun!

bc - Because. Sometimes this is spelled with a slash, like "b/c".
Ex. I'm asking bc I don't know if it's a good idea

Cya - See you. This is another way to say goodbye.
Ex. cya later!

K/kk - Okay, or another way of saying "yes." However, be careful. Sometimes only texting "k" can come off as rude or short.
Ex. k I'll get it done soon.

dm - Direct message. This is most commonly associated when someone messages you privately, usually with Instagram.
Ex. he dm'd me to ask if I knew his brother

fwiw - For what it's worth. When we want to express our opinion in a humble way, we type this slang phrase.
Ex. fwiw I think you should buy it.

hbu - How about you? A short way of asking someone the same question.
Ex. Person 1: How are you? Person 2: Oh, I'm fine, hbu?

idk - I don't know.
Ex. Idk if I'll go anymore.

idc - I don't care.
Ex. idc about finishing that book anymore

ifykyk - If you know, you know. People, especially teens, say ifykyk for jokes or ideas that you would only get if you're "in" the group.
Ex. i'm never wearing blue pants again ifykyk

imo/imho - In my opinion/in my honest (or humble) opinion. When we want to be direct and honest, we type this.
Ex. imo the green one is better than the purple.

irl - In real life. Gamers use this often to indicate when they mean something offline, in the real world.
Ex. have you met any of your online friends irl?

jk - Just kidding. We say this when we want to be clear we're not serious.
Ex. you're so mean! jk jk

lmk - Let me know.
Ex. lmk if you can come tonight!

lol - Laugh out loud. One of the oldest and most popular slang terms!
Ex. lol that's so funny!

lbr - Let's be real. We say this abbreviation when we want to be serious or honest. Here, "real" means straight-forward.
Ex. lbr she's probably not going to come

mrw - My reaction when. This one is most often seen on memes or reaction images, usually indicating a strong emotion in response to something.
Ex. mrw when my teacher tells me there's no homework

nbd - No big deal. We say this when something is not troublesome or an issue.
Ex. oh the party's tonight and not tomorrow? nbd I don't have plans today either

ngl - Not gonna lie. This is good for when you want to be honest.
Ex. ngl I thought the food wasn't good

np - No problem. Many people type this instead of "you're welcome."
Ex. np, it was easy to help out!

nsfw - Not safe for work. This abbreviation labels anything that might be innapropriate for a workplace.
Ex. I had to wait to watch the new Lil Nas X music video because it was nsfw

nvm - Never mind. This means to ignore or forget about something just said.
Ex. nvm I figured it out

omg/omfg - Oh my god, or oh my fing god. This is an exclamation of shock or emotion. The latter version is a strong curse so be careful if using it.
Ex. omg you'll never believe what I just bought!

omw - On my way.
Ex. leaving work now. omw!

pm - Private message. PM is the same thing as DM, but more commonly on Facebook or other social media.
Ex. I sent you a PM!

ppl - People.
Ex. there's too many ppl here

rn - Right now.
Ex. I can't call you rn, I'll call after class.

sus - This means "suspicious." It has been around for a while, but it's most popularly popular on the the mafia-like online game, Among Us.
Ex. idk you seem sus

srsly - Seriously
Ex. srlsy?? that's so rude

sry - Sorry
Ex. sry i didn't see this till now

tbh - To be honest. Similar to ngl, we type this when revealing your true opinion.
Ex. tbh I didn't think it was that good

thx - Thanks. This is a casual way of saying thank you, so be careful to use it for only small or casual things.
Ex. thx for telling me

tmi - Too much information. When someone tells you something unpleasant or too personal, you say tmi.
Ex. Wow tmi I didn't want to know that.

ttyl - Talk to you later.
Ex. My meeting's soon, ttyl!

wtf - What the f.... It indicates shock, anger or displeasure. This is a strong curse so be careful when using!
Ex. wtf that's so weird!

Romantic/Dating Slang:

bae - Before anyone else. English texters might call their partner bae. This has been around for a few years, so it's not the "freshest" word anymore.
Ex. That's my bae

bf/gf - Boyfriend, girlfriend.
Ex. Do you have a bf?

ily - I love you.
Ex. Goodnight ily!

ilysm - *I love you so much. *
Ex. You're the best, ilsym!

SO - Significant other. Serious couples who may or may not be married use this.
Ex. My SO is a senior consultant at the company.

Business/marketing Slang Phrases

The business world prefers slightly different kinds of abbreviations. These below terms are all popular in professional relationships. Remember these texting etiquette rules in any work conversation!

ASAP - As soon as possible.
Ex. Please get the report to me ASAP!

COB - Close of business. This refers to business working hours.
Ex. Please send it out by COB.

FYI - For your information. This is best used for sharing information that you assume the other person does not know.
Ex. FYI the client needs a copy of the transcript.

FTFY - Fixed that for you. We say this when we correct someone else's work. Saying this with a superior or in an inappropriate situation might come off rude, so be careful.
Ex. I saw a typo on the report. FTFY

TBA - To be announced.
Ex. Meeting time TBA

TBC - To be continued.
Ex. The brainstorm about next month's event is TBC.

TBD - To be determined.
Ex. Location of the company picnic is TBD.

WFH - Work from home.
Ex. We were WFH all last year and most of this year too.

TYT - Take your time.
Ex. Just saw this. TYT on the project!

Purposeful Misspellings:

cuz - cause

gud - good

sux - sucks

ur - your or you're

wut/wot - what

y - why

businesswoman typing very seriously

Texting Rules to Keep in Mind

Texting in English is not just about abbreviations, however. There are also subtle nuances you might not be aware of!

Using Periods at the Ends of Sentences

Researchers at Binghamton University found that native speakers texting in English feel using periods at the ends of sentences is actually off-putting.

Although using a period is required in formal written English, using it every sentence while texting might make your texts seem too stiff, insincere or even upset. It indicates a message is very thought-out and complete, which is unnecessary when texting a friend.

Person 1: Can you come over today?
Person 2: Sure.
Person 1: Why are you mad??
Person 2: Oh, I'm not mad.
Person 1: Then why are you using periods??

You should still use periods when messaging in formal contexts, like work. However, not all punctuation is bad. Using exclamation points ("!") can make your message sound more sincere.

Person 1: Can you come over today?
Person 2: Sure!
Person 1: Great!

Using Too Many Ellipses

Ellipses (three periods in a row; these "...") are a great tool in English. They show that someone is thinking or leaving a sentence open. However, they can make a message come off as though you're doubtful or hesitant. They can even seem somewhat ominous or as though you're upset. Be careful to limit your usage of ellipses unless you want to. Many older texters love to type these.

Ex. I thought it was tomorrow... (concerned, maybe even upset)
Ex. I thought it was tomorrow (neutral)

Spice It up With an Emoji

There are many great reasons to use emojis or smileys! It can be hard to read someone's mood through the phone. These little emoticons can help break up text and add tone.

English emojies and smileys aren't too different than other languages'. For example, a :) smiley shows friendliness. A :/ or a :( frown expresses sadness or worry. If you're worried your tone is not coming across well in a casual conversation, try using these.

Of course, don't go overboard! It's best not to use these with formal conversations except for maybe the classic and simple :).

happy couple texting next to each other


So, do you think you've got texting in English down?

Let's do a quick test and see how many you remember. Let's look at a casual conversation between two gaming friends, Gamerboi7 and Xtreme_22.

Gamerboi7: hey! i'm on rn. btw i can only play for a bit, my gf is wfh today
Xtreme_22: k, lmk when u gotta go. how was work
Gamerboi7: nbd cuz the boss was out today. hbu
Xtreme_22: gud, but my irl friend was acting sus today
Gamerboi7: y
Xtreme_22: idk and tbh idc. ngl i need some space
Gamerboi7: srsly? that sux, sry to hear that
Xtreme_22: yeah it's whatever. thx for listening
Gamerboi7: np. actually i think it's time for dinner. i'll ttyl!
Xtreme_22: cya!

See how casual that is? This is definitely a conversation between two close friends who know each other well. This is a bit exaggerated, but sometimes conversations in online spaces or over text can really look like this.

Alright, now let's do one last practice. Here's a work conversation between Michelle and her boss!

Her boss: Michelle, I need that report by COB.
Michelle: It's done. Sending it now!
Her boss: Changed the title. There was a typo. FTFY.
Michelle: Thank you!
Her boss: It's good. I need the next one ASAP. FYI, the meeting room changed. New room TBA.
Michelle: Thanks for telling me.
Her boss: TYT on the next newsletter. Just got word we'll be WFH next week.
Michelle: Okay!

Because their relationship is professional, it's a lot less personal. Michelle and her boss are still using punctuation and capitalization. Even their abbreviations are capitalized!

There you go! If you read both and understood them, then you have texting in English down!

Texting like this is great for conversations, but also social media. In fact, learning English through social media is a great idea. In fact, you can even study with instagram. As you get better and better at online English, you'll notice these texting slang phrases and patterns. Soon, you'll be using them yourself too--if not already!

Best of luck with your English texting journey, and cya later ;)!