Grammar Acronyms: What Is an Acronym? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Acronyms: What Is an Acronym?

Do you know the definition of the word acronym? Even if you couldn’t explain it the way a dictionary would, you probably know many acronyms and use them every day. In today’s post, we will review the definition and usage of acronyms so you can add them to your grammar toolbox.

What Exactly Is an Acronym?

An acronym is a word that is formed from the starting letters of other words. Expressed another way, it’s a new word that is created to represent its parts. With acronyms, we say and pronounce the full word. Familiar examples include radar, which means radio detection and ranging, and scuba, which is made from the first letters of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.

By comparison, an initialism is formed by using the first letters of words to form a phrase that is pronounced one letter at a time. Some common examples are FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

Now that you have this initial understanding, you can probably think of other acronyms—as well as initialisms—in your personal, educational, or professional life.

More Acronym Examples

To reinforce our understanding of acronyms, let’s look at some other examples:

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

UNICEF (The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund)

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group [image file type])

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)

You may recognize each acronym as a word that you have spoken or heard in a professional context. American English also has acronyms used in daily informal communication, such as:

YOLO (You Only Live Once)

BOGO (Buy One Get One)

Why Do We Use Acronyms?

We hope this is helping you gain a firmer grasp of acronyms. As to why they’re so valuable, consider the ones you might use. Why would you prefer to substitute an acronym for a full name or phrase?

The reason, of course, is that using acronyms is more efficient than spelling out an entire name or string of words, especially if you are repeating a reference multiple times as you might with a particular audience.

For example, imagine that you are a graphic designer. The acronym JPEG will save you a good deal of speech and character space as opposed to using Joint Photographic Experts Group when communicating with clients and co-workers throughout the day.

The key to acronyms is making sure they are understood and not used so much that they lose their intended function and meaning. Overuse of acronyms can confuse or tire our audience. Consider the following sentence:

Do NASA, UNICEF, and OSHA all accept JPEGs with a press release?

For some people, this type of phrasing can verge on jargon. Once again, to ascertain we’re connecting with our audience, we want to make sure the acronyms used are recognized and that we are not filling our text too many different acronyms.

Come Back for More Grammar Tips and Advice

We are always adding new content about grammar in American English, so visit again soon to continue your learning. You can also ask a question about this post or suggest a future grammar topic in the comments below!

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

2 responses to “Acronyms: What Is an Acronym?”

  1. ethel says:

    Your book is very useful and helpful. I am improving my grammar. Could you continue giving me some questions please?

    • says:

      We’re glad that our book and website are useful to your desire to enhance your grammar in American English. You can find more information about our quizzes – as well as link to many different free quizzes – at Free Grammar and Punctuation Quizzes (

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