Blog post

What does it stand for? Understanding corporate abbreviations in Europe

The meaning behind the acronyms and abbreviations used to describe firms and organisations across Europe.

Europeana Foundation

Across Europe, there are many acronyms and abbreviations used to describe the legal status of firms and organisations.

But what exactly do these all mean and what's their significance? Here's a short explainer on what some of these mean, why, when and where they are used.

AB, GmbH, Ltd, SA and more: company abbreviations across Europe

These abbreviations, mostly used before and after the names of firms and companies, tell us how the organisation is owned and funded.

Specific details vary across Europe, but broadly can be divided into whether stocks and shares in the company can be traded publicly (for example on the stock exchange) or are owned privately. 

The legal statutes of many companies also indicate that they are limited liability - in other words, their shareholders' liability in the firm is limited to a fixed sum, most often their investment.

So here are some of the more common abbreviations that you may recognise, with examples of how they are used from Europeana.

Public companies


AB stands for Aktiebolag, denoting a limited company. It is used mostly in Swedish-speaking countries. Examples include AB Ericsson and AB Scania.


AG stands for Aktiengesellschaft, a German word for a corporation limited by share ownership. Examples include Volkswagen AG and Siemens AG.

RELATED: Volkwagen Beetle: birth of an industrial icon


plc stands for public limited company, it is used in English-speaking countries. Examples include HSBC Bank plc.


NV stands for Naamloze vennootschap, meaning nameless partnership . It is used in Dutch-speaking countries to denote public companies. Examples include Philips N.V.

EXPLORE MORE: Philips: illuminating the world from Eindhoven


SA stands for société anonyme, meaning anonymous company or anonymous partnerships. It is used in French-speaking countries, as well as other variants in use in Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish also. Examples include Danone S.A.

RELATED: Centenary celebrations: eight firms that are 100 years old in 2019


SpA stands for Società per azioni, meaning company with shares, used in Italian. Examples include Barilla S.p.A. and Prada S.p.A.

Private companies


BV stands for Besloten vennootschap met beperkte aansprakelijkheid. This is the Dutch and Belgian version of a private limited liability company.


GmbH stands for Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, meaning a company with limited liability. It's used in German-speaking countries.


Ltd stands for Limited, used in United Kingdom and Ireland to denote a private limited company


Srl is used in Italian to meaning a limited liability company. It stands for Società a responsabilità limitata.

Many more abbreviations and company forms are in use across Europe and beyond. We hope some of the abbreviations you didn't know, but never bothered checking, are now clearer. If there's still a company abbreviation you'd like to decipher, let us know in comments or on social media.

By Adrian Murphy, Europeana Foundation

Explore industrial heritage

Explore industrial heritage and working lives in more than 400,000 photographs, videos, objects, documents and more from across Europe.

Feature image: Typograf Anders Blomberg, Arne Andersson, Bohusläns museum, Public Domain