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:

Create Abbrevs

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

    ;; English word abbrev
    ("arg" "argument" )
    ("bc" "because" )
    ("bg" "background" )
    ("bt" "between" )

    ;; English abridged words
    ("cnt" "can't" )
    ("ddnt" "didn't" )
    ("dnt" "don't" )

    ;; phrase abbrev
    ("afaik" "as far as i know" )
    ("atm" "at the moment" )
    ("ty" "thank you" )
    ("btw" "by the way" )

    ;; computing
    ("cfg" "context-free grammar" )
    ("cs" "computer science" )

    ;; tech company
    ("gc" "Google Chrome" )
    ("macos" "macOS" )
    ("msw" "Microsoft Windows" )

    ;; programing
    ("ipa" "IP address" )
    ("jvm" "Java Virtual Machine" )
    ("rsi" "Repetitive Strain Injury" )
    ("subdir" "subdirectory" )
    ("db" "database" )

    ("evp" "environment variable" )
    ("guip" "graphical user interface" )
    ("oopp" "object oriented programing" )
    ("osp" "operating system" )

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

    ;; regex
    ("azt" "\\([A-Za-z0-9]+\\)")
    ("brackett" "\\[\\([^]]+?\\)\\]")
    ("curlyt" "“\\([^”]+?\\)”")
    ("digitst" "\\([0-9]+\\)")
    ("datet" "\\([0-9][0-9][0-9][0-9]-[0-9][0-9]-[0-9][0-9]\\)")
    ("strt" "\\([^\"]+?\\)")

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


;; 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.

put this in your Emacs Init File:

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

Now, when you type 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 in this page is the most simple and efficient way to define 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 that defining abbrev using emacs lisp code manually is more efficient.

One big advantage of defining abbrev by emacs lisp code manually is that, you can organize abbrevs by category.

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

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Emacs: Abbrev Mode

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