Emacs: Abbrev Mode by Lisp Code

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Emacs's abbrev feature lets you type a short word and expand into a full word or code template.

For example:

Most Simple Way of Using Abbrev

Following is the the most simple and efficient way of using abbrev.

Create a file with the following content:

;; -*- coding: utf-8; lexical-binding: t; -*-
;; sample use of abbrev

(clear-abbrev-table global-abbrev-table)

(define-abbrev-table 'global-abbrev-table

    ;; net abbrev
    ("afaik" "as far as i know" )
    ("atm" "at the moment" )
    ("dfb" "difference between" )
    ("ty" "thank you" )
    ("ui" "user interface" )
    ("uns" "understand" )
    ("ur" "you are" )
    ("btw" "by the way" )

    ("cnt" "can't" )
    ("ddnt" "didn't" )
    ("dnt" "don't" )

    ;; english word abbrev
    ("ann" "announcement" )
    ("arg" "argument" )
    ("autom" "automatic" )
    ("bc" "because" )
    ("bg" "background" )
    ("bt" "between" )
    ("math" "mathematics" )

    ;; computing
    ("ahk" "AutoHotkey" )
    ("cfg" "context-free grammar" )
    ("cj" "Clojure" )
    ("cs" "computer science" )

    ;; tech company
    ("gc" "Google Chrome" )
    ("gm" "Google Map" )
    ("macos" "Mac OS" )
    ("msw" "Microsoft Windows" )

    ;; programing
    ("ev" "environment variable" )
    ("ipa" "IP address" )
    ("jvm" "Java Virtual Machine" )
    ("rsi" "Repetitive Strain Injury" )
    ("subdir" "sub-directory" )
    ("wd" "web development" )

    ("db" "database" )
    ("gui3" "graphical user interface" )
    ("oop3" "object oriented programing" )

    ("os3" "operating system" )

    ;; programing
    ("eq" "==" )
    ("r" "return" )
    ("utf8" "-*- coding: utf-8 -*-" )

    ;; regex
    ("xaz" "\\([A-Za-z0-9]+\\)" )

    ;; unicode
    ("md" "—" )

    ("hr" "--------------------------------------------------" )
    ("bu" "•" )
    ("catface" "😸" )
    ("hearts" "♥💕💓💔💖💗💘💝💞💟💙💚💛💜" )
    ("ra" "→" )

    ;; url
    ("urlemacs" "http://ergoemacs.org/" )


;; define abbrev for specific major mode
;; the first part of the name should be the value of the variable major-mode of that mode
;; e.g. for go-mode, name should be go-mode-abbrev-table

(when (boundp 'go-mode-abbrev-table)
  (clear-abbrev-table go-mode-abbrev-table))

(define-abbrev-table 'go-mode-abbrev-table
    ("go" "package main
import \"fmt\"
func main() {

    ("p" "fmt.Printf(\"%v\\n\", hh▮)")
    ("pl" "fmt.Println(hh▮)")
    ("r" "return")
    ("st" "string")
    ("eq" "==")
    ("v" "var x = 3")
    ("df" "x := 3")
    ("c" "const x = 3")
    ("f" "func ff(x int) int {
    return nil
    ("if" "if 4 { 3 }")
    ("ie" " if err != nil { panic(err) }")
    ("ei" "else if x > 0 { 3 }")
    ("else" "else { 3 }")
    ("for" "for i := 0; i < 4; i++ { i }")
    ("fr" "for k, v := range xxx {


(set-default 'abbrev-mode t)

(setq save-abbrevs nil)

name the file my-abbrev.el

Save the file at


Create the directory if it doesn't exist.

Then, in your emacs init file, add the line:

(load "~/.emacs.d/lisp/my-abbrev.el")

Select the line, then Alt+x eval-region

Now, when you type for example, “btw” followed by a space or punctuation, it'll become “by the way”.

Edit Abbrev

To edit the abbrev, just open the file, add/remove a line, then Alt+x eval-buffer.

It works right away.

Add the abbrev file to Emacs: Bookmark , so it's fast to open.

Prevent Abbrev Expansion

To stop abbrev from expansion, press Ctrl+q before typing space or punctuation.

Allowed Abbrev Characters

Emacs Abbrev Commands

What we covered above is the most simple and efficient way to use abbrev.

Emacs has over 20 abbrev commands and is fairly complex. I've used the traditional way to use/setup abbrev for half a year, but decided the above is much more efficient.

If you want to learn emacs's traditional way, see Emacs: Abbrev Mode by Commands

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