Using Articles with Acronyms

Keeping with my current theme of when to use articles (a, an, the), I will offer one last blog post on the topic. As I have mentioned, the proper use of articles is a common hurdle for new speakers. It is also an easy hurdle to get over, if one takes the time to grasp a few simple concepts.

English has many acronyms. Acronyms are invented words that come from taking the first letter of a string of words (the United States of America becomes the “USA”), or a longer compound word (television becomes “TV”.) This shortening of a string of words or a longer compound word is becoming more and more common. The obvious reason is that our modern era demands that things be said quickly. One downside of this trend is that acronyms need to be “unpacked,” which opens up a possibility for miscommunication among those unfamiliar with in-group lingo. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

In regards to which article to use before an acronym, the speaker must follow the same rules that govern regular nouns. For example, if we are talking about a specific country, we would use the definite article “the.” Example: I want to travel to “the” USA from “the” USSR. If we are talking about a specific television, we would say: I fixed “the” TV. If we talking about televisions in general, we would say: I want to buy “a” TV. Finally, if we are talking about a concept, such as “too much information” (TMI), we wouldn’t use any articles. Example: I would tell you about my stomach problems, but it’s TMI.

Please note, the decision of whether to use “a” or “an” comes down to how the acronym is pronounced. If it is pronounced as a consonant (TV) you would use “a”. (I want to buy “a” TV.) If it is pronounced as a vowel, you would use “an.” (I want to buy “an” RV.)

Again, mastery of this aspect of English is a matter of practice, practice, practice.

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