An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from the first letter (or first few letters) of each word in a phrase or title. The newly combined letters create a new word that becomes a part of everyday language. Using shortened forms of words or phrases can speed up communication. Explore this useful shorthand with these examples of acronyms.
Let’s start off by examining some popular acronyms and their meanings, including how they are used in sentences. We’re likely to see them in the news and even use them in our everyday language. Some acronyms have become regular words like radar, scuba, and taser.
AIDS - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
He tested positive for AIDS.
ASAP - As Soon As Possible
We have to get to the hospital ASAP!
AWOL - Absent Without Official Leave (or Absent Without Leave)
I don’t know where he went. He’s totally AWOL.
IMAX - Image Maximum
We saw MI:6 in the local IMAX theatre.
LASER - Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation
Our cat loves to chase a little red LASER beam.
PIN - Personal Identification Number
You’ll need your PIN to use your bank card at the ATM.
RADAR - Radio Detection and Ranging
The police officer used RADAR to catch them speeding.
SCUBA - Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
We gathered our SCUBA gear and dove into the Atlantic.
SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely
Create SMART goals for the quarter so you’ll be successful.
TASER - Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle
She hit the attacker with her TASER.
WASP - White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
Many citizens in the Colonial Era were WASPs.
Groups, organizations, and even specific occupational positions are often known more by their acronym than their real name. Some professional acronyms that used to be pronounced letter by letter are now pronounced as words.
AARP - American Association of Retired Persons
I forgot my AARP card.
DARE - Drug Abuse Resistance Education
The whole school is doing the DARE program.
FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Agency
After the hurricane, FEMA helped the survivors rebuild.
HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act
I can’t give you that information because of HIPAA.
HUD - Department of Housing and Urban Development
You’ll have to go to the HUD office to get help finding affordable housing.
NAFTA - North American Free Trade Agreement
NAFTA requires the U.S. to follow this rule.
NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
We watched the NASA engineer explain how a launch works.
NATO - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Let’s hope NATO always remains intact.
OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Everyone make sure you wear your helmets today, we’ve got an OSHA inspection.
POTUS - President Of The United States
The POTUS will be taking Air Force One to the meeting.
SEAL - Sea Air Land (U.S. Navy)
The SEAL team is taking this mission.
SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Anyone who qualifies for SNAP benefits qualifies for this program.
SWAT - Special Weapons and Tactics
The Los Angeles Police Department dispatched their SWAT team.
UNICEF - The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund
UNICEF appointed a new chairman of the board.
With interactions happening on email, text, Facebook, Instagram, and more, internet acronyms are a part of everyday language. Given our propensity to send quick, off-the-cuff text messages or post short, fun tweets, the grammar rules pertaining to acronyms and capitalization generally fly out the window.
BAE - Before Anyone Else
He’s my new BAE.
FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out
I’m only going with you because I have a major case of FOMO.
GIF - Graphics Interchange Format
She sent me a GIF of a dancing cat.
JPEG - Joint Photographic Experts Group
You have to attach that photo as a JPEG.
RAM - Random Access Memory
How much RAM does your computer have?
YOLO - You Only Live Once
You better go on that trip. YOLO!
Sometimes the new words acronyms create are as funny as their meetings.
KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, KISS.
LOL - Laugh Out Loud
You’re so funny, LOL!
MACUSA - Magical Congress of the United States of America
In the Fantastic Beasts movie, she was a member of MACUSA.
PHAT - Pretty hot and tempting
That girl was PHAT!
Technically speaking, you should capitalize all the letters in acronyms, but there are exceptions.
Most informal acronyms don’t use all capital letters. When people are texting friends or using social media, they often write acronyms in lowercase letters because it’s quicker. Some acronyms, like “taser,” have become so common, they are now considered real words, so they won’t be capitalized either.
When writing in a professional capacity, such as for a school essay or a press release, you always want to write out the full version of the term when you first mention it. Then you should indicate the acronym in parentheses immediately afterward. After the first mention, you can use the acronym throughout the rest of the piece.
“The Girls Scout troop visited the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters on Tuesday. While at NASA, they learned how to be astronauts.”
The fear of misusing acronyms (FOMA) is real for grammar geeks. In a digital age where everyone multitasks through their screens, it’s nice to have an adopted set of acronyms that most people know. If not, a quick Google search will tell you what your friend meant when she said she has “FOMO.” Now that you understand what acronyms look like, see if you can tell the difference between acronyms and abbreviations and how they relate to initialisms.