Posted by: episystechpubs | October 9, 2014

Inspiring Initialisms

Have you ever wondered whether you should write a or an before FBI? Do you dangle your fingers over the keys indecisively when you need to order a LED… or is it an LED? Today’s word wisdom will educate, inform, and inspire you to use your favorite initialisms with ease. This delightful discussion is taken from the article “Indefinite Article With Initialisms” on Daily Writing Tips.
An initialism is a group of initial letters, each pronounced separately, used as an abbreviation of a name. [LB – At Symitar, we often use initialisms like ATM, AIX, and RAM.]
The following examples were found on major news sites or on sites offering professional services or advice:

  • Pieces of the bag recovered have been sent to a FBI lab for forensic testing.
  • The 404 or Not Found error message is a HTTP standard response code. [LB – And please, don’t say the page 404’ed.
    404 is a number, not a verb, and adding the apostrophe just makes it worse.]
  • Step-by-step tutorial on how to add a LED to a USB thumb drive.

The problem lies in an incomplete understanding of the rule for the use of a and an. Many speakers retain the rule as “Use an before words that begin with a vowel and a before words that begin with a consonant.”
The complete rule is “Use an before words that begin with a vowel sound and a before words that begin with a consonant sound.”
The 26 letters of the alphabet are sound symbols, but the symbols have names. [LB – That’s right, each of the 26 letters of the alphabet is represented by a specific name.] And several of the consonant letters have names that begin with vowel sounds:

  • F [ef]
  • H [aitch]
  • L [el]
  • M [em]
  • N [en]
  • S [es]
  • R [ar] [LB – Be careful with this one; your coworkers might think you are growling!]

Here’s the correct way to write the words and initialisms given in boldface above:

  • Pieces of the bag recovered have been sent to an FBI lab for forensic testing.
  • The 404 or Not Found error message is an HTTP standard response code.
  • Step-by-step tutorial on how to add an LED to a USB thumb drive. [LB – Shine bright, little initialism!]

In deciding whether to write a or an in front of an initialism, say the name of the first letter. If the letter name begins with a vowel sound, use an.
Whew! Glad we got that straightened out. Now go forth and confidently place a or an before your favorite initialisms.
Thanks,
Laura Bowers | Technical Writer | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Ave. l San Diego, CA 92123-1507
619.542.6935 l or Ext. 766935

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