Do You Use "A" or "An" Before Acronyms?

Do You Use “A” or “An” Before Acronyms?

Acronyms are tricky, and it can be hard to determine if you should use an A or An before the acronym. Some examples of acronyms include HTML, NATO, and EU.

The definition of an acronym is a word that is formed using the first letter, or letters, of each word and makes them into a compound.

Acronyms usually come after A or An, but how do you know which you are supposed to use? It can be tricky to figure it out, but it doesn’t have to be.

The rule for Acronyms as Abbreviations

There are some acronyms that can be pronounced as a word, like NASCAR, or just a series of letters called abbreviations, like NBC.

Knowing how acronyms are pronounced plays a role in whether you will use A or An in front of it. The rule is based on how the words are pronounced, not how they are spelled as you might think.

If the acronym starts with the sound of a vowel, you will use An before the acronym. This can be tricky because words that start with consonants can use An.

Letters that are vowel-sounding and need An include X, S, R, O, N, M, L, I, H, F, E, and A. It is important to remember H is a vowel-sounding word because it is pronounced “aitch” and starts with an A sound.

Acronyms that start with the sound of a consonant, you will use A before the acronym. These are mostly all consonants, but there are some vowels included as well.

Letters that are consonant-sounding and need A include Z, Y, W, V, U, T, Q, P, K, J, G, D, C, and B.

Rules for Acronyms as Words

When the acronym can be pronounced as a word, the first letter will determine whether you use A or An before the acronym.

Let’s start with the D.S.P.C.A. The first letter is D so we have a consonant sound and therefore “A” is the appropriate article.

Let’s Take NHS as an example. NHS starts with a consonant that has a vowel sound, you will put an “An” in front of it. An NHS hospital stands for a National Health Service hospital, so An makes the most sense.

For a vowel, think of UV. While it might seem right to say an UV lamp, it is actually considered proper to say a UV lamp.

Other vowels like A, E, I, and O use “A” as the indefinite article. A.I.G is an example and “a” should be used when you need an article.

Abbreviations vs. Words

Choosing whether to use A or An before an acronym can be done using the abbreviation or the verbalized word. Using the abbreviation to determine which to use will sound more natural in your head and as it comes out of your mouth. This is also the case for when you pluralize acronyms.

The method of following the first letter of the abbreviation and how the letter sounds like a vowel or a consonant is used much more commonly. The word will flow smoother when you focus on the sound of the letter instead of the letter itself.

Examples of A and An

Since it is most common to use the sound of the first letter to determine A or An, that is what we are going to discuss with a quick example of the acronym as a word.

An LCBO bottle – L starts with a vowel sound (ell).

An MBA diploma – M starts with a vowel sound (em).

An HTML file – H starts with a vowel sound (aitch).

A UNESCO volunteer – U starts with a consonant sound.

Examples of Word Acronyms
A NATO member – in this case, N starts with a consonant sound (nay).

A NAFTA certificate – N also starts with a consonant sound in this word (nah).