What Exactly Does TL;DR Mean, and How Should You Use It?

Mystery solved! Here's what TL;DR means and why you keep seeing it online.

It can be hard to stay current with the latest slang. Language (and internet culture) continues to evolve, resulting in an ever-changing list of words that are in—and words that are out. What does S/U mean? And what the heck are these new text abbreviations, like TL;DR? If you just can’t keep up, don’t worry—we sometimes feel that way too. So what does TL;DR mean? The abbreviation is all over the internet, usually accompanying long paragraphs of text.

TL;DR is what’s called an initialism. It’s a form of abbreviation in which every letter is pronounced on its own, like DVD or VIP. (For more grammar fun, learn about the difference between acronyms and abbreviations with these acronym examples!) This helpful abbreviation provides short summaries of long stretches of text.

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What does TL;DR mean?

TL;DR (also sometimes seen without the semicolon as TLDR) means “too long; didn’t read.” It’s an abbreviation that you’ll frequently find at the end of internet communications, usually ones with a lot of text. It’s a phrase that basically means “summary” and is followed by a short, one- or two-line overview for people who may not have read every word of a long chunk of text. It’s a sort of ICYMI (internet speak for “in case you missed it”) tacked onto the end of an online post, email or another form of communication.

In other words, TL;DR says “if the text was too long and you didn’t read it all, this is what it was about.” It’s great if you are scanning a long post and just want the main points. It’s also helpful if you read all the text but want to make sure you understood it correctly. It isn’t an accusation that you didn’t read; it’s a helpful summary meant to improve communication.

How do you use TL;DR?

The abbreviation is usually used two different ways: with a long section of text, to sum up what comes before or after it, or instead of a long section of text, to convey the main takeaways of what a larger text would express.

For example, you’ll find it at the end of a Reddit post in which somebody is telling a story that goes on for longer than a few lines. This might say something like “TL;DR: I thought I saw a ghost, but it was really the cat.”

You’ll also see it on Twitter when people sum up their thoughts on a complicated subject. For example, after a Twitter thread about politics, the last tweet might end with “TL;DR: It’s important to vote.”

Sometimes you might see it in a text from a friend, describing the main point of a story that would be too long or complicated to type out in its entirety. This could look like, “TL;DR: Kids made a huge mess, and I’m going to be late.”

The abbreviation doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t read the text before it. Even if it can sound a little brusque, that’s not really what TL;DR means! It isn’t a condemnation—it’s a friendly summary to help you follow along with what was said. Sometimes it can be tongue in cheek, a way of saying, “I know I wrote a lot, and it might be too much to read.” Think of it as the Cliffs Notes of internet communication!

Is TL;DR rude?

No, it isn’t rude. But like any abbreviation, there’s a time and a place for it; there are different etiquette rules for formal and less formal situations. It’s OK to use it on social media, with your friends or in a quick, informal note to a coworker. But an important email, a big presentation or a business proposal is not the time to use slang or abbreviations of any kind.

In a professional setting, you don’t want to be the person who has to ask “what does FWIW mean?” Likewise, you don’t want to embarrass others by forcing them to ask “what does TL;DR mean?” Even though TL;DR isn’t rude, it’s better email etiquette to avoid it in formal settings. Besides, you don’t want to accidentally offend somebody by suggesting they may not have read every word of your important email.

What can you say besides TL;DR?

You can replace TL;DR with any terms that signify a summary or final overview. This is a good time to think back to writing essays for English class—what kinds of phrases did you use to write conclusions for your papers? You can use them to replace TL;DR.

For longer-form text, try these options:

  • In conclusion
  • Overall
  • Ultimately

If you are looking for something to use in a bulleted list, words like takeaway and overview will do the trick as well. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with just writing summary.

Sarah Vincent
Sarah Vincent is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest, covering digital lifestyle stories. She has also worked as a culture journalist, and you can find her published in America, National Catholic Reporter and Sojourners. In her free time, she loves crafting, cooking, traveling and learning (or forgetting!) Japanese.