Posted by: Jack Henry | July 5, 2018

Editor’s Corner: A Little More About Acronyms and Initialisms

Good morning. I hope you had a happy 4th. It was so nice to have a day off in the middle of the week! Time to get back to work. 😊

We’ve written many Editor’s Corner articles about acronyms and initialisms. Acronyms are abbreviations that are pronounced like words (NASA, PETA, MADD) and initialisms are abbreviations that are pronounced by saying each letter (FBI, PTA, SEDB).

When you use an acronym or initialism that is not commonly known, the JHA rule is to spell it out the first time and put the abbreviation in parentheses. After that, you can use the abbreviation alone. For instance, you might need to spell out Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) the first time you use it, but almost everyone knows that FBI stands for Federal Bureau of Investigation, so you do not need to spell out each word even on the first mention.

What I want to focus on today, however, is whether you should use an article (the, a, an) when using an acronym or initialism in your writing.

First, let’s talk about acronyms. Because they are treated like words, you usually do not need to use an article. You would write, “NASA was established in 1958,” not “The NASA was established in 1958.” The exception to this rule is when the acronym is used as an adjective, as in “The PETA protestors blocked the road and stopped traffic.”

On the other hand, most initialisms are preceded by an article, as in “The FBI launched the investigation in January.” But sometimes they are not, as in “Angela is taking a course in CPR.” Whether you use an article before an initialism is determined by established usage. Sorry I can’t give you a black or white rule to follow; but if you’re not sure, check a trusted resource. The first resource we check here at JHA is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). If you do not have access to CMOS, a quick internet search, should give you the answer you need.

Someone probably should have thought twice about this oxymoronic acronym:

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

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