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  1. Newbie
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    #1

    A versus AN with acronyms

    Hello,

    Could you please clarify how we should use the indefinite articles A and AN with acronyms such as PM (proposed model), or other similar acronyms which when read in short form (spelled out) start with a vowel sound?

    My feeling would be to go with "an PM". But then, when I would write in my publications "an PM", I sometimes get a comment that it should be "a PM", and vice verse, if I write "a PM" then the comment would advise "an PM." So I am confused.

    Thank you!

  2. charliedeut's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Hi,

    As far as the usage of a/an is concerned, you should follow the general rule: 'a' should go before consonant, 'an' should go before a vowel.

    So, in the case you mention, if you are speaking of an EU (see I used 'an', not 'a'. Do you guess why?) summit, where the PMs (Prime Ministers or equivalents) meet, you should use "a PM" (PM reads /pi-em/) because PM reads as starting with a consonant. On the other hand, if you reverse it to MP (Member of Parliament, which reads /em-pi/), you should say "an MP" because MP reads as starting with a vowel.
    Please be aware that I'm neither a native English speaker nor a teacher.

  3. BobK's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms


    Quote Originally Posted by charliedeut View Post
    Hi,

    As far as the usage of a/an is concerned, you should follow the general rule: 'a' should go before consonant sound, 'an' should go before a vowel sound.

    ...
    Carlos has the luxury of speaking a language where letters map to sounds! But we have to listen to the acronym/initialism: 'a NATO submarine' but 'an NUM representative' (because the 'National Union of Mineworkers' is not known as the /nʌm/.

    b

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    #4

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Hello charliedeut, BobK,

    Many thanks for the prompt and illustrative feedback!
    By the way, I see now that my question had some contradicting examples (accidentally) - sorry about that.

    In any case, I am now more confident of which I need to choose: A or AN. :)
    Thanks again!
    Last edited by lplatisa; 19-Dec-2012 at 13:15.

  5. Raymott's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    Carlos has the luxury of speaking a language where letters map to sounds!
    b
    That's true. But I'm not sure that covers the problem of whether something expressed as an acronym or as initialism. The Spanish letters are feminine, so an initialism would start with 'la ...' whereas if the word were pronounced as an acronym, it might be masculine. (So I believe. charliedeut can confirm that and give examples.)
    NATO is la OTAN (Alianza del Tratado del Atlántico Norte). I can't find any masculine Spanish acronyms at the moment. It seems that most concepts that lend themselves to acronyms are feminine in Spanish anyway.
    Last edited by Raymott; 19-Dec-2012 at 13:21.

  6. Newbie
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    #6

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Sorry, but I am now a bit lost with these cross-comparisons to Spanish.
    When speaking about English language, would there be any differences between how we use a/an with an acronym compared to how we use it with an initialism?

  7. Raymott's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Quote Originally Posted by lplatisa View Post
    Sorry, but I am now a bit lost with these cross-comparisons to Spanish.
    When speaking about English language, would there be any differences between how we use a/an with an acronym compared to how we use it with an initialism?
    Sorry, my reply was really for Bob and charlie. You seemed to have indicated you'd had a good enough reply already. Bob has answered your question in #3.
    If you pronounce NATO as a word (as we do) it's an acronym. If we said "En Aye Tee Oh", it's an initialism. At least, that's one popular definition, but you don't even need to know that. You only need to know how it's pronounced. "a NATO; an en aye tee oh"

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    #8

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Thanks.

  9. BobK's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    That's true. But I'm not sure that covers the problem of whether something expressed as an acronym or as initialism. The Spanish letters are feminine, so an initialism would start with 'la ...' whereas if the word were pronounced as an acronym, it might be masculine. (So I believe. charliedeut can confirm that and give examples.)
    NATO is la OTAN (Alianza del Tratado del Atlántico Norte). I can't find any masculine Spanish acronyms at the moment. It seems that most concepts that lend themselves to acronyms are feminine in Spanish anyway.
    I wasn't talking about the mechanism; charliedeut got that right. But because in his language a letter is effectively the same thing as a letter sound, his "'a' should go before a consonant, 'an' should go before a vowel" meant "'a' should go before a consonant sound, 'an' should go before a vowel sound". In order to pronounce an acronym or initialism, any speaker of any language must know the difference; that's not what I was talking about.

    b

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    #10

    Re: A versus AN with acronyms

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    NATO is la OTAN (Alianza del Tratado del Atlántico Norte). I can't find any masculine Spanish acronyms at the moment. It seems that most concepts that lend themselves to acronyms are feminine in Spanish anyway.
    In Spanish we speak of "el ICO" (Instituto de Crédito Oficial or Official Credit Institute - a state office to lend money to small-medium companies who can't get the money from banks). So you're right, Raymott. However, when we use initialisms (RTVE or "Radio Televisión Española", for instance), we usually drop the article.
    Please be aware that I'm neither a native English speaker nor a teacher.

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