Which indefinite article to use before Acronyms and Initialisms

LOL AcronymsA little doubt often creeps in when using an indefinite article (a/an) before an acronym or an initialism. Firstly, let’s just quickly distinguish between these two.

An acronym is an abbreviation from the initial letters of other words and then pronounced as a word. For example: NASA, SCUBA, RADAR, UNICEF, NATO.

An initialism, while also an abbreviation from the initial letters of other words, cannot be pronounced as a word. Each letter has to be pronounced separately, eg BBC, FBI, RSVP, VIP.

So, which indefinite article precedes these ‘words’? 

With acronyms, since they are pronounced as words, they’re treated like any other consonant or vowel-starting word:

A NASA official
A NATO report
An OPEC meeting

With initialisms, however, the indefinite article is determined by the sound of the first letter of the ‘word’:

A BBC spokesman
A VIP lounge

F (eff), H (aitch), L (ell), M (em), N (en), S (ess) X (ex), are consonants but are vowel-sounding. So any initialism starting with those letters is preceded by ‘an’.

An FBI agent
An SOS call
An MA in languages
An X-ray fish

Don’t forget ‘U’, although a vowel, is, in these circumstances, treated as a consonant, as it’s pronounced ‘You’.

A UNESCO official
A UFO but An Unidentified Foreign Object

You will probably find yourself using the right articles without even realising you’re doing so. I hope this helps explain why you’re doing it correctly!

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

5 thoughts on “Which indefinite article to use before Acronyms and Initialisms”

  1. Cathy is the absolute best when it comes to these types of things. She edited my Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion winning book, Opening Day: A Matt Davis Mystery, and I’m convinced that, without her help, that never would have happened. That’s an A-OK to Cathy!

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