Can you use PO in English?

The letters “PO” are commonly used together in business and commercial contexts as an abbreviation for “purchase order.” However, some questions arise around the appropriateness and grammaticality of using “PO” in other contexts in English.

What does PO stand for?

PO is an abbreviation for “purchase order.” A purchase order is a commercial document issued by a buyer to a seller, indicating the type, quantities and agreed prices for products or services. It serves as an offer to buy products or services at specified terms and conditions. A PO also serves as a contract once the seller accepts it.

Some examples of what PO stands for in business contexts:

  • PO – Purchase order
  • PO number – Purchase order number
  • Place a PO – Place a purchase order
  • Open PO – Open purchase order, can place orders over a period of time up to a set spending limit

The issuance of a PO is a key step in the procurement process. It formalizes the intent and terms to purchase goods or services before any money changes hands. POs allow buyers and sellers to agree upfront on the details of a transaction to help ensure the ordered items meet the buyer’s needs and avoid disputes.

Is it grammatically correct to use PO outside of commerce?

Outside of business and commerce contexts, using “PO” as an abbreviation is not standard or grammatically correct in English. Some examples of improper use of PO include:

  • I’m going to the PO to mail this letter (incorrect, should say “post office”)
  • My PO box is 1234 (incorrect, should say “P.O. box”)
  • Meet me at the PO (incorrect, should say “post office” or “P.O.”)

There are a few cases where PO is acceptable in general English:

  • P.O. – Can stand for “post office” when written with periods
  • P.O. Box – Acceptable abbreviation for “post office box”
  • POW – A well-known abbreviation for “prisoner of war”

However, as a rule of thumb, PO should only be used to refer to “purchase order” in business contexts, not as a shorthand for “post office” in general prose.

Why is it important to use PO correctly?

There are a few reasons why proper use of PO is important:

  • Clarity: Using PO incorrectly could confuse readers who are unfamiliar with that abbreviation in non-business contexts.
  • Professionalism: In written business communication, adhering to grammatical conventions signals professionalism and attention to detail.
  • Legal implications: In contracts, purchase orders, and other legal documents, terminology must be precise to avoid potential disputes or miscommunication.
  • avoid looking foolish: Using PO incorrectly suggests the writer is unfamiliar with standard rules of grammar and abbreviation.

Sticking to the conventional rules on PO usage helps ensure clear, polished, and grammatically correct communication in both business and everyday prose.

What are some examples of correct PO usage?

Here are some examples of grammatically correct uses of PO in business and commercial contexts:

  • The purchasing department issues standard PO forms to buy office supplies
  • I sent the PO to the vendor last week but have not received confirmation yet
  • Attached please find the PO for the equipment we discussed, let me know if you need any clarification
  • Once you receive the PO, please ship the order within 3 business days
  • We can initiate the order as soon as we have an approved PO
  • The sales contract states payment terms are net 30 days from the date of PO
  • I will follow up on my end to get the PO approved so we can move forward

In these examples, PO is correctly used as an abbreviation for “purchase order” in a business or sales context.

What are some examples of incorrect PO usage?

Here are some examples of incorrect PO usage in non-business settings:

  • I need to stop by the PO on my way home (incorrect, should say “post office”)
  • My PO box is too small for large packages (incorrect, should say “P.O. box”)
  • Let’s meet at the PO downtown at noon (incorrect, should say “post office”)
  • I hope I don’t get sent to the POW camp (incorrect, should say “prisoner of war camp”)
  • Can you add to my PO? (incorrect in non-business setting)

These examples improperly use PO as shorthand for “post office” or other terms. The correct forms should be used instead for clarity.

What to use instead of PO outside business contexts

Instead of using PO informally, here are some clearer alternatives:

  • Post office – spell out fully
  • P.O. – spell out with periods to abbreviate properly
  • P.O. Box – periods required when abbreviating
  • POW camp – spell out prisoner of war fully

Additionally, avoid using PO on its own in any non-business setting, as readers may find it confusing or grammatically incorrect.


PO has a well-established meaning as an abbreviation for “purchase order” in business and commerce contexts. However, use of PO as shorthand for “post office” or other terms outside of business is improper grammar. Following conventions on PO usage shows care and precision with language. Both writers and readers benefit when terminology is clear, unambiguous, and adheres to accepted rules.

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