Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviations and acronyms are similar in that both of them are based on the initial letters of a sequence of word, and both of them tend to be written in upper-case letters. They differ only in the way they are pronounced.

When the initial letters of the words in a name, title, or phrase are spelled out as a pronounceable word, we get a acronym.
  • AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome - for example,  is an acronym because it can easily be pronounced; therefore it also rhymes with words such as raids (n. pl.), maids (n. pl), and fades (v., third pers. sg.)
  • TESOL - Teaching of English as a Second or Other Language - is pronounced /tesol/, and
  • LIPPS - Language Interaction in Plurilingual and Plurilectral Speakers - is an acronym that was created on the basis of a pronounceable existing word of the English language.
Abbreviations, on the other hand, just string together the names of the initial letters of the words in the names, titles or phrases they stand for. DNA, for example, is spelled out by simply pronouncing the names of the letters DNA: /di/ /en/ /ei/. Other well-known abbreviations are TV for television, and UN for United Nations.


Because of this small difference between acronyms and abbreviations, you may not always know whether you are dealing with one or the other when you first come across the in print. The other way round, sometimes we have heard an acronym or abbreviation so often that we treat them like words, because we are unaware of their origin as acronyms. Two examples of this are scuba as in scuba diving which has been derived from Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, and radar, which comes from Radio Detecting And Ranging. From a linguistic point of view the distinction does not matter either; both abbreviations and acronyms are nouns and behave accordingly in syntax.

Source English Words and Sentences - Eva Duran Eppler and Gabriel Ozón - Cambridge University Press

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