The Abbreviation for Liter: What Is It and How Is It Used?

Wondering how to abbreviate the word liter? Use this guide to learn the meaning of this unit of measurement and how to use it appropriately in abbreviated form.

Liter is a unit of capacity for liquids. It is a unit of volume within the metric system of measurement.

A liter is equivalent in volume to the following:

  • 1.75 pints in the U.K. 
  • 2.1 pints in the U.S.
  • 1,000 cubic centimeters
  • 1.057 quarts
  • A cubic decimeter


A liter will fill up cube measuring 10cm x 10cm x 10cm. In medical environments, a liter is a kilogram of pure water at 4 degrees centigrade. The SI unit for liter is L, written with either a lower or uppercase letter.

The word liter has two common spellings: The American spelling, liter, and the international variation, litre. Of the two, litre is more commonly used worldwide. The American variation is predominantly used in the U.S., although it is widely recognized and accepted as another form of the word around the world. Similarly, metric units like milliliters (millilitres), cubic centimeters (cubic centimetres), and tons (tonnes) have alternate spellings outside the United States.

The word liter is a noun—it is a word that identifies or categorizes a person, place, or thing.

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The Abbreviation

The abbreviated form of the word liter is upper case L or lowercase letter l, but some people use a cursive ℓ to ensure that the abbreviation is not confused with the number 1 or a capital letter i. The most common mistake made in abbreviating liter is using three letters. Neither LTR or ltr would be a correct abbreviation. Instead, LTR is an acronym for a variety of phrases including long term repeat, light tactical rifle, lawful temporary resident, and also the word letter.

Synonyms for Liter

  • deciliter
  • cubic decimeter
  • fluid ounce
  • centiliter
  • dekaliter
  • dkl
  • dl
  • milliliter
  • cubic meter

The Word in Context

1. I bought two liters of water.

2. That is a 2-liter bottle of water.

You will notice that the word liter is used as a noun in the first sentence. In the second sentence, the number and measurement unit are connected with a hyphen. In this case, 2-liter is being used as an adjective to describe the word bottle. The abbreviation of liter remains the same whether you are using the word in singular or plural form.

The History of the Word

This word derives from Greek word, litra, which was a unit to measure weight. In Medieval Latin, litra retained the same spelling. Eventually, the word came into use in France as litron, becoming a part of the French metric system as a base unit of volume. Once the French developed the International System of Units, the word came into worldwide usage. 

Another interesting story surrounding the word liter came about in 1978, when Professor Kenneth Woolner and his colleague Professor Reg Friesen, both from the University of Waterloo, invented a fictitious character. They created Mr. Claude Emile Jean-Baptiste Litre to eliminate the squabbling among scientists over whether to use an uppercase or lowercase L in the abbreviation of the word.

A technicality in the rules of nomenclature dictated that capitalization of the first letter should be accorded only to units named after individual scientists. Since there was no scientist behind the invention of the word liter, the two professors made one up to justify using a capital letter L to abbreviate liters. In 1978, they described their fictitious character as having scientific accomplishments and built him up to resemble a credible scientific voice.

It is important to mention that Woolner and Friesen were somewhat secretive about the origins of their fictitious character. Other scientists built on the prank, describing his discoveries and adding to the legend. Although the professors laid the public deception to rest eventually, a good number of non-scientists were tricked into believing in the existence of a man named Claude Emile Jean-Baptiste Litre.

When to Use the Abbreviation

In the United States, the metric system is not as popular as it is in other parts of the world. In the United States, if someone bought four 2-liter bottles of cola, they would say, “I bought four bottles,” rather than, “I bought 8 liters.”

Even in the United States, the abbreviation L is commonly found on food labels, especially for drinks and recipes, to specify the amount needed in the preparation. Often, bottles have a label that describes the volume in both fluid ounces and liters. 

Rules for Abbreviating Liter

  1. Put a space between the number and the unit. 
  2. Use the abbreviation only after reporting or quoting a numerical value.
  3. Use the full word in the non-numerical context.

Examples of the Word and Abbreviation in Context

  • Recipe ingredients
    • 5 L of water
    • 2 sticks of celery
    • 1 cup of chopped parsley
    •  2 racks of lamb
  • We need five liters of water to build the model.
  • The chemist read out the instructions on the medicine label to himself, saying, “Add 2 L of water to the suspension and shake thoroughly.”
  • Matthew brought a 2-liter bottle of soda.
  • We need at least 10 L of milk to make the birthday cake.
  • Two gallons of gas is equal to over 7.5 liters.

A liter is a unit of measurement used in industries such as military, medicine, and more; its abbreviation remains one of the most popular unit symbols in today’s world.