I've been recently working on a small piece of documentation file using beginner-level LaTeX. The acknowledgement and the purity of the documentation was satisfactory by now.

Unfortunately, since the documentation file is not going to be conducted as physical-form composition, I have decided not to include a glossary. As a result, I would have to indicate the abbreviation definitions in the footnote segment of the document.

At the moment, I have found the word DVCSs ( Distributed Version Control System )s as a problematic morsel. I want to refer to the meaning of DVCS, without including the last s.

However, I can't firmly understand if I should include the footnote number after the DVCS, which would result in this branch of writing:


Which is faintly awkward to read.

Or should I include it after the plural indicator ( S ), ( Even though my reference is not about Version Control Systems ).

I would be glad if a expert would be able to point me in the correct direction, and I apologize if my question is not related to the field of Graphics Design, I have been directed to this forum because there are currently no existing SE forum about the domain of Typography.

  • 1
    Your example makes it more awkward to read, by not superscripting the footnote number. However DVCS¹s looks a lot like DVCS's (in some fonts at least) so it still looks confusing.
    – Chris H
    Mar 27 at 12:01
  • Why not just write "...the foobar consists of multiple Distributed Version Control Systems (DVCS)...", no footnote needed. Mar 27 at 17:29
  • Put it after the next period.
    – user207421
    Mar 29 at 8:05

3 Answers 3


I can see the dilemma, but I don't think there's a specific rule set in stone about this, anywhere. So you'll need to make your own subjective decision.

Personally I would place the footnote reference after the plural s, and explain the singular in the actual footnote area, without overthinking it:


Or, maybe a cleaner option, adjust the copy and try to remove the plural form, eg:

... multiple DVCS1 tools ... or instances, arrays, blocks, or any other word that describes one of these systems in your particular context

Or, just call it a

DVCS1 grid


I have yet to find a footnote convention that permits footnotes inside a word, which is what you're doing with DVCS1s (assuming you're using a superscript as you should; see my comment under the question).

Readers can be assumed to be intelligent enough to understand the plural/singular distinction. When I write technical material I really try to help the reader. Just occasionally the helpful thing to do is to keep it simple and trust them, and I think this is one of those times

As you're using LaTeX, have a look at the glossaries package, which is the modern way to automate a lot of acronym-related stuff (without requiring a glossary section). It appears to offer the option to automatically expand acronyms in footnotes for you, if that's all you want to do. The author used to be active on TeX.se, and the package is very well thought out. I would suggest using the options it offers you as a guide as well as a tool.

I've made much more use of the older, simple acronym package, which was mainly designed to ensure acronyms, initialisms, and other abbreviations are spelt out when they first occur, but would use glossaries in new work.

You do have one more option, which may be easy with glossaries, and that's to put the singular abbreviation in the content of the footnote, to make it abundantly clear that you're not referring to a mixed-case abbreviation:


1DVCS: Distributed Version Control System

  • 1
    Completely agree, I really think the OP is overthinking this. Nobody will be confused by this. I did have one genuine example of a similar kind of issue recently which I felt the need to explain, I hope the example will be self-explanatory. "It contains the mantras3 ... 3In Sanskrit the name yajus (as in Yajur-Veda) is given to them, but it is worth pointing out that this is singular; the Sanskrit plural would be yajūṃṣi and I suppose the English plural would be yajuses" The OP's case presents no similar risk of confusion
    – Au101
    Mar 28 at 19:40

Do you actually need to handle this with a footnote?

In my experience, formal writing that lacks a glossary tends to be easier to read if abbreviated terms are introduced in-line instead of as footnotes, with the full term spelled out on first use and the abbreviation shown in paranthesis immediately afterwards, and then subsequent uses only using the abbreviation.

For your example, that would mean:

  • For the first use: ‘Distributed Version Control Systems (DVCS)’ or ‘Distributed Version Control System (DVCS)’ if the first use does not need the plural.
  • For any subsequent uses: ‘DVCSs’ or ‘DVCS’.

Most written documents I have seen that do not include a glossary and do not assume prior knowledge of the meaning of any acronyms use exactly this convention. It makes life easier for anybody reading the document for the first time, doesn’t significantly impact things for people re-reading it, and completely sidesteps the issue.

  • I'd also introduce abbreviations in-line, but whether or not there's a glossary, they should be introduced in full on the same page; a footnote is reasonable even if it's not my first choice or yours. It may be better for not breaking the flow in some people's styles. In long documents like my thesis I set the appropriate LaTeX package to give the full form the first time it appears per chapter, rather than expecting the reader to remember a term that was introduced 50+ pages earlier, and am wary of using any but the most common abbreviations in content that a reader might read in isolation
    – Chris H
    Mar 28 at 19:57

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