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Cf. is interpreted, and can be read aloud, as "compare to". It is the imperative singular form of the Latin word confer, meaning in this context "consult", and is used to refer to other material or ideas which may provide similar or different information or arguments. It is mainly used in scholarly contexts such as in academic articles (mainly humanities, physics, chemistry, and biology) or texts (economic, legal).
cf. is used in: essays, theses, technical books, law review articles, and legal opinions. Its purpose is to compare the immediately preceding statement with another statement in the same work or more commonly, a statement in another work. A fabricated example of its use in legal writing:
- 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"]).
cf. is sometimes used in place of "see", as in:
The Australian language Dyirbal has a remarkable gender system; cf. Dixon (1972).
That which is animal, therefore, does not perceive the things that are of God cf. 1 Cor 2:14.
While the use of cf. for "see" is widespread, the Chicago Manual of Style holds that it should not be used in this way but instead should only be used to mean "compare" or "see, by way of comparison". In some other languages, like French, it is normal to use "cf." to mean "see".
In biology, the abbreviation has one additional use in open nomenclature: it denotes specimens or populations that resemble a known taxon, but differ in details; they thus may or may not refer to an undescribed taxon. For example, a cory catfish was once known as Corydoras cf. reynoldsi, meaning that it resembles but is not identical to typical Corydoras reynoldsi. In this particular case, it indeed turned out to be a new species, later described as Corydoras tukano. Related and often interchangeable is the abbreviation aff. (for affinis, "related to").
Formatted properly, the abbreviation has a single period after it ("cf.", not "c.f.") because it represents a shortening of a single word – confer – not two words (cf. "q.v."). With incorrect formatting that used two periods ("c.f.") the result would be an abbreviation of two words that could mean, for example, "centrifugal force" or "cantus firmus" or "club futbol".
- 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.
- "Abbreviations". Informatics.sussex.ac.uk. Retrieved 2010-07-14.
- Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, Selected spiritual writings, ed. H. Lawrence Bond, pp. 183, 315
- "Chicago Manual of Style 15th Ed. Style Sheet". Michigan State University Press (page 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.”"
- "Les abréviations courantes" (in French).
- Britto, Marcelo R.; Flávio CT Lima (Oct/Dec 2003). "Corydoras tukano, a new species of corydoradine catfish from the rio Tiquié, upper rio Negro basin, Brazil (Ostariophysi: Siluriformes: Callichthyidae)". Neotrop. ichthyol. 1 (2). doi:10.1590/S1679-62252003000200002.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. "CF abbreviation". Retrieved 18 January 2013.
- Steven G. Laitz, The Complete Musician, 3rd ed., p. 48.