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The abbreviation cf. derives from the Latin verb conferre, while in English it is commonly read as "compare". The abbreviation advises readers to consult other material, usually for the purpose of drawing a contrast. Many usage guides recommend against the common use of cf. to mean "see also".
Such abbreviations appear most frequently in scholarly contexts such as in academic articles, mainly in humanities, physics, chemistry, and open nomenclature biology. They also appear widely in texts dealing with topics in theology, philology, or in economic or legal writing.
The abbreviation cf. is used in essays, theses, technical books, law review articles, legal opinions, and scientific nomenclature. Its purpose is to compare the immediately preceding statement with another statement in the same work or more commonly, a statement in another work. The following legal fabrication provides an example:
While cars are required by law to stop at all stop signs (Vehicle Code section 1234 ["Cars must stop at stop signs"]), pedestrians are not (cf. Vehicle Code section 4321 ["Pedestrians need not stop at stop signs"]).
While the cf. abbreviation has widespread use as a shorthand for "see", particularly in citations, The Chicago Manual of Style recommends against its use in this sense and prefers instead that cf. be used only to mean "compare" or "see, by way of comparison".
In biological naming conventions, cf. is variously used; commonly it is placed between the generic name and the specific name to describe a specimen whose designation is uncertain because of practical difficulties such as poor preservation of the specimen. For example: Barbus cf. holotaenia implies that the specimen is believed to be Barbus holotaenia but the actual identification cannot be certain. The use of cf. in biological nomenclature expresses a possible identity, or at least a significant resemblance, such as between a newly observed specimen and a known species or taxon. Such a usage might suggest a specimen's membership of the same genus or possibly of a shared higher taxon, such as in "Diptera: Tabanidae, cf. Tabanus" where the author is confident of the order Diptera and family Tabanidae, but can offer the genus Tabanus only as a suggestion, and has no information favouring a particular species.
Formatted properly, the abbreviation ends in a single period ("cf.", not "c.f.") because it represents a shortening of "confer" as a single word, not a shortening of two words (cf. "q.v.").
- William Walker (1730). Some improvements to the art of teaching, especially in the first grounding of a young scholar in grammar learning. pp. 229, 233–.
- Joseph Shield Nicholson (1897). Principles of Political Economy. Adam and Charles Black.
- Warren Benjamin Catlin (1 January 1962). The Progress of Economics: A History of Economic Thought. Ardent Media. pp. 503–. GGKEY:CYPGRWH8YYC.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes (1881). The Common Law. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. pp. 316–. ISBN 978-1-58477-499-0.
- Peter Redman, Good Essay Writing: A Social Sciences Guide, p. 114.
- William Giles Campbell, Form and style in thesis writing, p. 41.
- Dan Richard Jones, Technical Writing Style, p. 101.
- The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, p. 55 (19th ed., 2010)
- Joyce J. George, Judicial Opinion Writing Handbook, p. 358.
- Bengtson, Peter. "Open Nomenclature" (PDF). Palaeontology. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
- "Chicago Manual of Style 15th Ed. Style Sheet" (PDF). Michigan State University Press. p. 6, citing Chicago Manual of Style section 16.58. Retrieved 2012-11-05.
There is a distinction between see and cf.; use cf. only to mean 'compare' or 'see, by way of comparison'.
- FIELD KEY FOR SELECTED BENTHIC INVERTEBRATES. FROM THE HKH REGION. DRAFT VERSION FEBRUARY 2007 prepared by Anne Hartmann [www.assess-hkh.at/downloads/Field_Key_HKH_draft.pdf]