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What is the correct way to pluralize an acronym? asked about pluralising acronyms, abbreviations and initialisms, but is there a standard way to add verb endings e.g. -ing and -ed (what are these called?), at least in informal English?

For example, which of these is/are best?

  1. I'm SMSing her.
  2. I'm SMS-ing her.
  3. I'm SMS'ing her.

I know I can rephrase it to "I'm sending her an SMS." but I wish to use SMS as a verb.

Similarly,

  1. He FUBARed.
  2. He FUBAR-ed.
  3. He FUBAR'ed.
  4. He FUBAR-d.
  5. He FUBAR'd.

In the latter set, as the verb is actually the F ("foul", or something more explicit) — the expanded sentence being "He fouled up beyond all recognition." — should it even be "He FedUBAR." or similar?

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  • 6
    The best way to spell "SMSing" in English is "texting". And the term you are looking for is suffix.
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 15, 2013 at 10:05
  • 2
    It seems odd that you would say "someone fucked up beyond all recognition", surely they are in that state, they don't do that state. So "He was FUBARd". But that's just a niggle. Apr 15, 2013 at 12:06
  • 1
    Well, then again, "someone fucked up beyond all recognition" is a valid phrase in and of itself, if "fucked up" is taken to be a verb rather than an adjective.
    – Joe Z.
    Apr 15, 2013 at 12:37
  • @JoeZ. I have to agree with Matt. FUBAR is an adjectival phrase; here, "beyond all recognition" means "into an unrecognizable form." It's an intensification of SNAFU ("situation normal, all fucked up"). If SNAFU gets even worse, it's FUBAR. If you convert it (but why?) to verb form ("he fucked up"), you wouldn't use "beyond all recognition" to hyperbolize it. To hyperbolize this version, you would need a phrase like "beyond anything he's ever done before." (By the way, these are ironic acronyms of WWII vintage, and losing some popularity with age, sorry to say.) Apr 16, 2013 at 0:26
  • I can't think of any way to use -ed or -ing as a valid suffix. Can anyone else? -d simply doesn't exist, and 'd is archaic (no longer used). If you must use these as verbs, go ahead and use the ed or ing with no punctuation. But tell me, why are you so gung-ho to use these as verbs? Apr 16, 2013 at 1:38

3 Answers 3

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If you're using a non-verb acronym or initialism as a verb, you're already in the realm of jargon. If you're writing in a context where that's acceptable, you should add a simple "ed" or "ing" for a suffix unless you're going for a humorous effect. When acronyms are absorbed into the language, they may acquire verb forms; for example, the verb meaning "to produce a laser beam" is "lase," retroactively treating the acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation" as if it meant "something that 'lases.'"

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  • I can't offhand think of any acronym-derived verbs other than 'lase'/'laser', 'Tase'/'Taser', 'radar', 'scuba', and, informally, 'snafu' (the first two having different forms of the verbed acronym).. 'Zip' in computing has been verbed, but derives from the original word, not the later postal-service acronym. Apr 20 at 11:20
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I think it depends on context, in my case I use an apostrophe as needed.

  • SMSed looks fine to me.

  • MACing, however, sounds like we're using a mace (weapon/spray) on someone. For such case I would go with MAC'ing¹ which makes the intent clearer.

¹ MAC is Message Authentication Code

P.S. I'm not from the realm of languages, but wanted to add some additional info on what I do in practice.

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  • 2
    You add -king to picnic or traffic, so I guess MACking would be logical, although it looks a bit weird - a type of burger?
    – Stuart F
    Apr 20 at 11:07
  • The nearest I can get to a standardised form is MAC-ing. The k is unnecessary if the hyphen is chosen, and the apostrophe (though it has been used in the plurals ex's and do's = parties or opposite of don'ts) looks even worse. Apr 20 at 11:25
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This Q&A thread asks for the

"Proper way to add tense to acronyms, abbreviations and initialisms"

Is there a standard way to add verb endings e.g. -ing and -ed (what are these called?), at least in informal English?

I am moved to post this answer because this topic is a FAQ, with many [duplicate question] closures, but where the similar Q&A (usually this) that doesn't answer the closed questions. Furthermore, there is considerable inconsistency between answers on stackexchange, and outside references.

---+ REALLY SHORT SUMMARY

Suffix schemes plain ed/ing/s and apostrophe'd 'd/'ing/'s are both used. Also es. Much less often 'ed, but uses are seen.

Hyphenated suffixes -ed/-ing only rarely seen, if at all.

Changing spelling recommended against: NATed or NAT'd or even NAT'ed, but not NATTed or NATted.

---+ MORE DETAIL

Let "acroinitialisms" include both acronyms and initialisms.

Simple: Conjugate acro+initialisms with the usual suffixes: past ed, continuous ing, and 2nd person present s. E.g. EOLed, EOLing, EOLs.

Apostrophes can also be used: past 'd, continuous 'ing, 2nd person present 's.

Consistency?: One is tempted to recommend consistency, use ed/ing/s everywhere, or 'd/'ing/'s everywhere. But...

Acroinitialisms that end with S may use es. E.g. both SMSs and SMSes are used, although simple s seems more common. 's is also often used for the second person present: e.g. "He IDs them", "He ID's them".

Plurals of acroinitialisms may be formed the same way as 2nd person present: "They send invitations. He RSVP's. They received many RSVP's." (RSVP seems to be a case where the grammar police are adamant that only 's/'ed/'ing are used. Except for the dictionaries that don't)

A reason to avoid using 's: confusion with possessive

=> hybrid, using 'd and 'ing, but s for singular.

Reasons to use apostrophes include:

  • Compatibility with similar forms, such as OK'd or *KO'd" — this sounds good, but several dictionaries and other references list both forms OKed/OK'd and KOed/KO'd
  • Pronunciation - modifying vowel sound
    • e.g. DOSed/DOSing suggests pronunciation like medical "dose/dosed/dosing", whereas DOS'd/DOS'ing is more compatible with typical pronunciation "doss/dossed/dossing", or spelled out "D-O-S-ing"
    • e.g. NATing suggests pronuniciation like "Nate/nated/nating", whereas NAT'ing is more compatible with pronunciation "Nat/natted/natting", or spelled out "N-A-T-ing"
  • Pronunciation - avoiding gratuitous syllable
    • e.g. GPL'd suggests enunciation that might be spelled pseudo-phonetically "G-P-eld", rather than "G-P-L-ed" as might be suggested by "GPLed" or "GPL'ed"

Note: suffix ed seems to be slightly more common than 'd, while 'ed is less common. Indeed, **some sources disparage 'ed **, saying things like "There is no English word that contains 'ed. Apostrophe is for leaving something out, and you are not leaving anything out!" But of course they are contradicted by their recommending 'ing, and reputable dictionaries that list 'ed.


Overall, it seems that the use of the apostrophe forms is not to suggest contraction or leaving something out, but instead to provide a visual distinction between the acro-initialism and the suffix.

Hyphenation would do the same, but does not seem to be used.


Changing spelling of the acroinitialism is recommended against: NATed or NAT'd or even NAT'ed, but not NATTed or NATted. Although it is to be expected that if the term becomes common, it will eventually be spelled and conjugated nat/nats/natted/natting.


I found no discussions comparing all uppercase vs CamelCase, aka titlecase initialisms: e.g. Denial Of Service, DoS vs DOS

  • pronounced
    • as a word: doss/dosses/dossed/dossing
    • or spelled out: D-O-S, D-O-esses, D-O-essed, D-O-essing
  • All uppercase
    • DOS/DOSs/DOSed/DOSing
    • DOS/DOS's/DOS'd/DOS'ing
  • CamelCase
    • DoS/DoSs/DoSed/DoSing
    • DoS/DoS's/DoS'd/DoS'ing

I found no examples of hyphenation in my survey.

  • spellings of conjugations for Denial of Service
    • plain: DOS/DOSs/DOSed/DOSing
    • apostrophe: DOS/DOS's/DOS'd/DOS'ing
    • hyphentation: DOS/DOS-es/DOS-ed/DOS-ing Nevertheless, I find hyphenation more readable. But that's just my unsupported opinion.

--- TL;DR - excessively long details

---+ Similar/duplicate[*] questions

Note *: see section below: "Similar/Duplicate quibbling".

---++ My similar/duplicate question: *DOS* (Denial of Service) as a verb

I asked a similar question about the term "Denial of Service", initialism DOS or abbreviation DoS depending on what dictionary you use.

That question (DOS/DoS) was correctly flagged as a duplicate of this question (SMS/MAC). I agree that it's a duplicate. I disagree with the accepted answer from @user32047. There are many such Q&As. This Q&A poses the question in its widest form, at least for acronym/initialism verbing, but the accepted answer is incomplete. At the very least it does not talk about 2nd person present simple tense. But there's more.

---+ Other similar/duplicate questions on english.se

This question has a nice generic title Proper way to add tense to acronyms, abbreviations and initialisms

Related question What is the correct way to pluralize an acronym / initialism?, not a duplicate. One can imagine a family of questions about the spelling of acronym verb forms (-ed, etc) , plurals (s), adjective (-ier?) and adverb (-ly) forms.

Other similar questions that are a subset of this question include

Past participle of a verb created from an acronym whose title is more specific and therefore subordinate to the current Q&A. ---> examples: EOL'd, OD'd, GPL'ed / GPLed OD'ed

Using present participle and past tense of an acronym --> NAT'ed and NAT'ing, CC'ing

Past tense of MOT? ---> MOTing, MOT'd — Cambridge dictionary

Proper way to write a acronym that's become a verb --> UNIX command cd (change directory) • cd'd • cd-ed suggested

However, although this question has the most generic title for verbs, the answers proposed are incomplete (e.g. I have not found anything on english.se conjugating acronym verbs in 2nd person singular (-es?) ), somewhat disorganized, inconsistent with accepted to answers to related questions on english.se.

Moreover, as far as I can tell from a wee bit of looking at dictionaries and style guides on the web, there is no single best answer. There are American/English differences, but there are also many differences apparently on a word by word, acronym by acronym, initialism by initialism basis. It therefore might be appropriate to leave some of these Q&As up for specific words, if it is too painful to answer the question for all acronyms/initialisms, or even just all new such, in a single Q&A.

(This is a problem with stackexchange's Q&A format: The question may be flagged as a duplicate, even though the answers are neither complete nor duplicated. Similarly, the actual answer might be spread over many separate answers, or, in this case, over many separate similar but not quite duplicated Q&A's)

---+ Discussion of proposed answers

I disagree with the @user3204's accepted answer to this question.

My disagreement was originally my opinion and "gut feel", but I went and did a little bit more research and found some dictionary and style guide references.

Blindly applying suffixes like "ed" and "ing" not only sounds wrong, but is widely recommended against by prescriptive authoritities, at least for particular initialisms like RSVP, where RSVP'd and RSVP'ing are preferred by many.

I agree with @Daniel that SMSing looks fine, but MACing or DOSing look strange, and suggest inappropriate pronunciation. English already has so many words that are not spelled as they are pronounced, we don't need to add to the problem.

@PhilSweet commented on my DOS question: "Instinct tells me DOS'd - like RSVP'd and KO'd". This seems quite reasonable to me. Indeed, many dictionaries and style guides recommend.

---+ References, authorities, and webpages

I was hoping that english.se might give me a simple clean answer. Or at least references to authoritative dictionaries and style guides. But of course we are talking about the English language, which flourishes and evolves through inconsistencies.

In Past participle of a verb created from an acronym @ShadowRange commented: [I] felt stylebook sources would be good for support. Multiple style manuals okay using the 'd suffix for acronyms and initialisms where the acronym/initialism is immediately recognizable as a verb, e.g. The Chicago Manual of Style suggests "OD'd" for "overdosed", while the AP Stylebook recommends "OK'd" for "okayed", so if you're communicating with folks who recognize GPL as a verb, then GPL'd would be an endorsed way to do it. For folks who aren't familiar with what "GPL" means as a verb, I'd avoid it, and explain the transitive/"viral" nature of the license.

Unfortunately, the link he provided seems to be dead. Nevertheless, it provoked me to waste some time searching the web for dictionaries style guides, and other webpages. I could not come up with a nice way of organizing the results given the limited formatting available in a stackexchange answer, so I will just summarize without being too exact in attribution.

Sources include:

Unfortunately, except for the Wikimedia style guide, which is not very complete, most of the important style guides like Chicago Manual of Style are behind pay walls. Sometimes people would provide excerpts for particular words, but not a comprehensive search

---++ Table summarizing Survey

Here "item" stands for both initialisms pronounced letter by letter and acronyms Pronounced as more or less ordinary words roughly corresponding to the spelling. Many items are frequently both initialisms and acronyms.

The table has rows for particular acronyms and initialisms, columns for conjugation the fixes s/'s/es/ing/'ing/-ing/ed/'ed/'d/d, and authority as a third dimension i.e. additional row below each word

I'm happy to see that StackExchange supports tables, although I suspect that some data has been lost converting to this format.

Codes:

  • w Wikitionary
  • mw Merriam Webster
  • c Cambridge
  • o Oxford
  • CMS Chicago Manual of style
  • AP
  • d dictionary.com
  • wr wordreference.com +r = rsvp.com

Most of the cells are sourced from wiktionary and/or wordreference.com.

The absence of a code for the other sources may just mean that I did not look that item up in that source.

Word s 's es ing 'ing -ing ed 'd 'ed d
RSVP RSVPs RSVP's RSVPing RSVP'in RSVPed RSVP'd RSVP'ed
w w, wr, r d, w d w
OK OKs OK's OKing OK'ing OKed OK'd OK'ed
w wr w w, mw, wr w w, mw, ap wr
ID IDs ID's IDing ID'ing IDed ID'd ID'ed
w,wr w,wr w w,wr w,wr w,wr w,wr
MC MCs MC's MCing MC'ing MCed MC'd MC'ed MCd
w,wr wr, -w w -w w,wr wr wr wr!
DJ DJs DJ's DJing DJ'ing DJed DJ'd wr
w w w w w w
KO KOs KO's KOing KO'ing KOed KO'd wr
w w w w wr w
OD ODs OD's ODing OD'ing ODed OD'd OD'ed
w,wr w,wr w w,wr w w,cms w
SMS SMSs SMSes SMSing SMSed
-w -w w! w w
o o
BS BSes BSing BSed
w w w
DIY DIYs DIYing DIY-ing DIYed
w w w w
EOL EOLed
w
UPS UPSes UPSing UPSed
w w w
NAT
DOS
DoS
DHL
GPL

---++ Observations from Survey of Conjugating Acronyms and Initialisms

Here are my overall comments, basin observations of the tables and what are IMHO the most reputable comments in English.se

The descriptive sources like wiktionary and wordreference.com pretty much accept both s/'s for 2nd person present, and similarly both ed/'d and ing/'ing

2nd person, present simple

• Both s and 's are fairly widely used.

• There may be a pattern of both 's NOT being used for "middle-aged* wordsd like DIYs but not DIY's, and bs and 's being accepted for older items, like RSVP and OK, and for younger items like MC's and DJ's

• Suffix es was used for all of the items that ended with letter S, pretty much as one would conjugate a non-acronym non-initialism word that ended with S or the es sound.. E.g. BSes. E.g. SMSes, although Oxford lists SMSs. E.g. UPSes.

• Google N-gram, however, shows "SMSs" more than 10x more frequent than "SMSes"

Past Tenses: ed, 'd

• Both ed and 'd appear to be widely used: ODed, OD'd

'd Does not seem to be used on any item that ends with S

• similarly, there may be a small trend for 'd not to be used on "middle-aged" items

'ed is rarely but occasionally seen, most often in wordreference.com, Where for some reason it seems to be associated with subjunctive. Occasionally in wiktionary.

'ed is widely deprecated, by people saying things like "apostrophe is for stuff you left out, and you've not left out anything with RSVP'ed." this objection of course is bogus, when you accept 's and 'ing in many places.

d as a conjugation for an acronym is found in only one place, MCd. which rather makes sense when you sound it out.

Continuous, over time: ing, 'ing, -ing

  • Both ing and 'ing are often used.

    • 'ing is not used for any of the items I found that end with letter S, although it is found in Google N-grams
  • -ing is used occasionally

I mentioned Google N-grams: Unfortunately, I do not know how to get Google N-grams to search for items with apostrophes like "OK'd".

---+ My Personal Takeaways

I will be confident using both the standard hyphenated and un-hyphenated forms ed and 'd, and ing and 'ing.

I will confidently use 'd when I think the ed form suggests incorrect pronunciation, as in DOSed versus DOS'd.

Suffixes s and 's are in wide use for both plurals and 2nd person present verbs. I prefer s, even if I am using 'd and ing, to avoid confusion with possessive 's.

I will be slightly but not very reluctant to use es when it sounds right, typically after items that and with letter S and X. although here again I sit

I will be reluctant to use -ed and -ing lest I be arrested by the tech writer usage police, although I did find uses. IMHO 'ed/-ed and 'ing/-ing are frequently more readable than ed/ing forms.

Hyphenated forms avoid the objection that one grammar fascist on the web raised for RSVP'ed, saying that "apostrophes are for leaving things out", and "there are no English words that contain 'ed*". Not only is he empirically wrong, but he is inconsistent with his own recommendation of RSVP's as the plural.

---++ Other Considerations

---+++ Autocorrect

Minor consideration: many systems have an autocorrect feature "Correct TWo INitial CApitals". Yes, you can turn it off, but it's on by default. Using the apostrophe forms like *ID's* *ID'd* *ID'ing* avoids *IDs Ided Iding* problems. Ditto hyphenated forms .

---+++ Consistency between code, comments, and documentation

Technical writers write for an audience of human readers.

Hardware and software engineers often write for several audiences:

  1. human readers
  2. computers, in the form of programming language code
  3. other engineers, will have to read that code, possibly with comments

Sometimes documentation is automatically extracted from comments or similar text like pydoc in the code. The tools that do this extraction often have idiosyncratic constraints. E.g. they may not allow apostrophes, or they require them to be escaped, e.g. '. This can make such embedded documentation less readable, and therefore less likely to be maintained. Hence a preference for letter only forms like SMSs or SMSes, SMSed, and SMSing.

When writing for computers, it is frequently not possible to have identifiers containing apostrophes. E.g. you can't create an identifier like Number_of_SMSs_sent in many programming languages. Please ignore that SMS_sent_count might be a better name -- I just needed to come up with an example, and this was the 1st that came to mind. Besides, even though you might be able to give the identifier a name that does not require the apostrophe, it might be inconsistent with other patterns.

Some languages permit -ed and -ing in identifiers. Some permit any character. This might be a reason to choose hyphenated vs apostrophe suffixes.

Most languages support underscores in identifiers. But IMHO _ed and _ing are not reasonable alternatives. underscores are usually the accepted replacement for spaces to separate words.

It is becoming increasingly common for languages to support certain Unicode characters inside identifiers. This might allow better "suffix separators" than apostrophe and hyphen.

E.g. Perl allows the following character that looks similar to but not exactly the same as an apostrophe inside identifiers:

  • U+02B9_|ʹ|_Modifier Letter Prime
  • SMS, SMSʹs, SMSʹd or SMSʹed, SMSʹing

E.g. or if "Prime" looks too much like a conventional apostrophe, perhaps

  • ʽ U+02BD Modifier Letter Reversed Comma
  • SMS, SMSʽs, SMSʽd or SMSʽed, SMSʽing *

However, it is early days for this: There does not yet seem to be consensus as to what Unicode characters should be allowed in identifiers (probably unicode letters, including the modifier letters above, as well as connectors like underscore and undertie), and unicode font support is often incomplete.

(I expect I will be derided for saying this (a) by the "people should only program in English ASCII" crowd), and (b) by writers on the English.se group who don't care about consistency between human-human and human-programming languages.)

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