Syntax: Article Agreement with Initialisms & Acronyms

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Was there a FBI raid last week? Or is that an FBI raid?

Acronym: An acronym is an abbreviation in which the resulting term is pronounced as a single word.

  • Examples: NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration); OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries); PIN (personal identification number).
  • Rule: Since an acronym is pronounced like a regular word, treat it like any other word—only use “an” if the acronym begins with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u); otherwise, use “a.”
    • Example: “Space Force was a POTUS creation, not a NASA one.”

Initialism: An initialism is an abbreviation in which the individual letters of the word are pronounced separately.

  • Examples: NBA (National Basketball Association), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), ATM (automated teller machine).
  • Rule: Since an acronym is pronounced letter by letter, the pronunciation of the first letter dictates. So if the initialism starts with a vowel sound, use “an”; otherwise, use “a.”
    • Vowel Sound Examples (“an”): FBI (eff); HDMI (aitch); MBA (em); NBA (en); SQL (es, if pronounced es-cue-el).
    • Consonant Sound Examples (“a”): CDC (see); UCLA (you).

And before you get back to drafting a SCOTUS brief, here are a few example problems to test your understanding!

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1 / 5

1. For the following sentence, determine the correct articles for each acronym/initialism: In the next several years, I am hoping to get an JD and an MBA.

2 / 5

2. For the two sentences below, do you need an “a” or an “an” before the acronym/initialism? 

1. The governmental agency wanted a new team of IT professionals and thus issued a/an RFP, or “request for proposal.”

2. I need to find a/an SEC order that addresses this issue.

3 / 5

3. For the following sentence, choose the appropriate articles for each acronym: Last year, I had a/an MRI and a/an CAT scan.

4 / 5

4. In the two sentences below, determine whether the acronym/initialism should take “a” or “an”:

1. She was hired as a/an HR specialist.

2. The scientist needs a/an LCD for the experiment.

5 / 5

5. In the two sentences below, determine whether the acronym/initialism should take “a” or “an”:

1. He submitted a/an RFC for the software upgrade.

2. She took a/an LSAT to get into law school.

Your score is

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