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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Acronyms & Initialisms


We use abbreviations every day when we're writing. Most of you know that abbreviations that are pronounced as words are called acronyms -- think of NATO, AIDS, or OPEC. But did you know that abbreviations that are pronounced one letter at a time are called initialisms? According to The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th Edition (¶501), abbreviations like FBI, HTML, IBM, and DVD are technically initialisms, not acronyms. That's a new one for me! Apparently not every grammar authority makes this distinction, so don't feel bad if you have never heard the term "initialisms" until now.

When you're using acronyms, you need to watch for redundant phrases. Be sure that you do not follow an abbreviation with a word that is already part of the abbreviation. A perfect example of a redundant acronym is PIN number. You wouldn't say "Personal Identification Number number," would you?

Here are some other common redundant acronyms to look out for:

●  ATM machine
●  UPC code
●  HIV virus
●  LCD display
●  ABS system
●  PDF format
●  VIN number
●  SAT test
●  NAFTA agreement

So just remember to shave off that last unnecessary word when using acronyms and initialisms, and you'll be fine:

I hope you don't forget your PIN the next time you're at the ATM!

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