I know an acronym is an abbreviation that can be pronounced as one word, but when is an abbreviation pronounced as one word?

Making myself clearer, how do we know whether or not it is pronounced as one word or not? Is there any definite rule to go by? For example, today, we were discussing "AYAD", whether or not this was an abbreviation or acronym. We didn't know, and we didn't know how to tell whether or not it was an acronym.


  1. Is there a rule to go by to determine an acronym from an abbreviation?
  2. If there is, what is it?

Can someone please provide some details on this? Cheers!

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of pronouncing acronyms
    – Philoto
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 12:23
  • I believe technically what you are asking for is the difference between an acronym and an initialism: english.stackexchange.com/q/3755/8019 Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 12:23
  • @Philoto, I already know what an acronym is. My question is, how can you tell it is an acronym, if you didn't know how to pronounce it. How could you tell it was pronounced as a single word only?
    – Thursagen
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 12:24
  • That question is answered in the link I posted earlier. You simply can't.
    – Philoto
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 12:29
  • I don't know what an acronym is. I've seen three conflicting definitions. More, if one uses 'initial components' rather than 'initial letters' in the definition. Wikipedia says there is no consensus. Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


The simple answer is, you can't. If you are having a conversation with someone who uses an acronym, the only way you'd know is if they spelled out the letters. Otherwise, you'd simply have to ask. And obviously used in written form such as an e-mail, you'd never know if it were an acronym outside of context. Though a good list can be found here.

A good rule of thumb is that acronyms that might look difficult to sound out are likely spelled instead (FBI, FDA, IBM to name a few).

  • 1
    Could you make your answer official, by referencing perhaps? I'd like a good solid argument, not just stating "you can't". Pardon my fussiness, but I just want to make absolutely sure.
    – Thursagen
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 12:39
  • 1
    GNU's Not Unix ;)
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 12:52
  • @Ham and Bacon: You're asking for a reference for the absence of a rule?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 13:20
  • +1: I think the only rule is to try and sound it out as an acronym, and if it doesn't "flow" then spell it out as an initialism instead.
    – KeithS
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 14:17
  • @Colin the first rule of EL&U is that you don't talk about EL&U !
    – mgb
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 14:49

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