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Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms

Updated: May 19


'Nasa' is an acronym. It is made up of the initial letters of other words, but has come to be a new word in its own right: Nasa = North American Space Agency.

The rules around acronyms are a bit woolly unclear. They can be written in upper or lower case; sometimes the first two letters may be used, just to make the word more pronounceable.

Other examples of acronyms:

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Awol - Absent Without Leave

Sonar – SOnic NAvigation and Ranging


These are not quite the same as acronyms. They are words that often get shortened, in speech or more commonly in written English.

For example, ‘approx.’ is an abbreviation - the first part - of the word approximately; it has been abbreviated, or shortened. Most authorities state that full-stops are needed to show that the word has been abbreviated, although words such as vet (an abbreviation of veterinarian) have become so common that no one would ever use a full-stop after it.

Other examples of abbreviations:

Dept. – department

Mr. / Mrs. / Ms. – These are such common abbreviations that the original word from which they came are hardly ever used in full

Misc. – miscellaneous

Etc. – et cetera


These are not the same as acronyms either!

An initialism is a type of abbreviation, made up of the initial letters of words. They tend to be pronounced as individual letters. Only if/when they are pronounced as words do they become acronyms. They tend not to need full-stops after the letters.

BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation

DVD – Digital Versatile Disc

FYI – For your information

LOL – Laugh out loud*

*At the beginning of the text-messaging era, when such initialisms really started to become popular, many people, quite understandably, thought that LOL stood for ‘lots of love’. There were reports of rather unfortunate text-message situations:

I am sorry to tell you that Auntie Sally passed away last night. LOL, Mum”

Andrew Wenger is the founder and lead teacher of Same Sky Languages - a language school which focuses mostly on teaching foreign languages to British people who would like to learn a new language, or brush the dust off an old one. Occasionally, there is wider point to make about language in general, which is not specific to any of the main courses that we offer: French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese.

If you would like to find out more about enrolling in a course please get in touch here. The chances are high that I will advise you to wait until we start our new courses in September, but please get in touch anyway, especially if something in the above post has caught your eye

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