BizWritingTip reader: “I would like to know whether to use ‘a’ or ‘an’ before an acronym. For example, I have seen both ‘a Law Society of Upper Canada form’ and ‘an LSUC form.’ Are they both written correctly?”
BizWritingTip response: Before I begin to deal with this issue, let’s discuss acronyms versus initialisms. An acronym is an abbreviation you can pronounce as an actual word.
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
Hazmat (Hazardous materials)
OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)
Initialisms are abbreviations that you pronounce as a string of letters.
FAQs (frequently asked questions)
FYI (for your information)
PBS (Public Broadcasting Service)
In school, you learned to put a definite article, “the,” or an indefinite article, “a” or “an” before a noun. You were also told to put “an” in front of a noun beginning with a vowel and “a” in front of a noun starting with a consonant: a meeting, an emergency.
But remember the exceptions I often talk about with regard to the English language. When it comes to abbreviations and initialisms, you have to ask what is the first sound – not the first letter. “An” is used when the first sound is a vowel, “a” when the first sound is a consonant.
An LCBO bottle (vowel start — ell)
A LAN connection (consonant start)
An MBA degree (vowel start — em)
An FYI notice (vowel start — ehf)
Therefore, both “a Law Society of Upper Canada form” and its abbreviated form “an LSUC form” are correct.
Don’t you just love English!