What’s up, shorty? – Acronyms and Abbreviations

This week we have a guest post from Vasy Kafidoff. He writes about Acronyms and Abbreviations. Take it away, Vasy!


WHAT IS AN ACRONYM?

Acronyms are a simple topic: They are words formed by taking the first letter of a multi-word term.  Hence, Federal Bureau of Investigation becomes FBI.

(Technically speaking, an acronym is one that can be pronounced — e.g., NASA — while an unpronounceable abbreviation is termed an initialism — e.g., the aforementioned FBI.)

HOW ARE ACRONYMS SPELLED?

Acronyms take two forms: As a stand-in for a longer name, such as National Aeronautic and Space Administration —> NASA; or for phrases, as in also known as —> a.k.a.

Generally speaking, a proper noun, such as NASA, FBI, HIV or NAFTA, are capitalized and take no periods.  Acronyms derived from phrases, a.k.a., e.g., i.e., are lowercase and take periods. Neither form takes spaces in between the letters. A. K. A. is right out.

WHAT ABOUT ACRONYMS AND VERB AGREEMENT?

Simple: Acronyms take singular verbs in American English. “NASA has scheduled the launch for Tuesday.” “The FBI is investigating all leads in the case.” This is because, in most cases, acronyms are organizations, and organizations are considered a single entity.

I will not speak to British English’s usage, because I am more of an American English speaker, and British English is a foreign freaking language.

HOW DO I USE ACRONYMS?

When using acronyms, spell it out on first reference, then use the abbreviation from there on out.

Here’s where styles differ. Some styles set off the abbreviate by commas immediately upon first reference:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, previously underreported the rate of HIV infections in America.

The CDC apologized for the error.

Chicago style sets off the abbreviation in parentheses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previously underreported the rate of HIV infections in America.

The CDC apologized for the error.

Still other styles, AP in particular, do not use the acronym in the first reference at all. If it is not immediately clear that the acronym refers to the spelled-out name on first reference, do not use it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously underreported the rate of HIV infections in America.

The CDC apologized for the error.

As always, check your style guide. If your organization does not have a style guide (shudder), stick with Chicago and you can’t go wrong.


Author bio:

Vasy Kafidoff is a writer and co-founder of the WritingMetier. He travels all around the world and writes articles for different online blogs as a hobby. He also runs his own blog Kafidoff.com.

4 thoughts on “What’s up, shorty? – Acronyms and Abbreviations”

  1. I really liked Kafidoff’s article and found it very informative. Having worked in a writing center I know what a nightmare it can be, to be consistent with different styles within writing and referencing. After reviewing the article I agree with him that the Chicago style seems the easiest to remember and follow especially for acronyms.

    1. I’m glad you liked it 😉

      Yeah, it’s been a while since I started working in the online writing business, and I worked with different citation styles and still believe that Chicago is the most “understandable’.

  2. That is a relief. Where I worked before we used APA 6th edition, but Chicago seems more reasonable. I’m glad things are getting easier rather than harder.

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