I have always been curious about the use of acronyms and initialisms in scientific manuscripts. For one, take the following example. An author has abbreviated "continuous infusion" as CI, with regard to the administration of anesthetic propofol.

In this example; it was written "A catheter was introduced for the CI administration of propofol" If we expand the abbreviation, it would read as: "A catheter was introduced for the continuous infusion administration of propofol", which doesn't make much sense as infusion already implies that propofol is being administered.

Nonetheless, if read as "CI administration", it makes sense because CI is being used as an adjective of the noun 'administration.'

Could someone tell me if, when an abbreviation is used as an acronym, the expanded meaning of the acronym is ignored?

  • 1
    Those are NOT adjectives. They are merely nouns used attributively, just like in baby shower or dog food or street car. Just think of them as compound nouns that happen to have spaces in them.
    – tchrist
    Aug 1, 2016 at 5:40
  • I don't see why the expanded version does not make sense. Continuous infusion acts (as tchrist says) as a noun adjunct, specifying that the administration is of the continuous infusion type. It might also have been non-continuous infusion, injection, tablets, pills, etc. Obviously, for tablets or pills, a catheter wouldn't be relevant; but that's only relevant in this particular context. Continuous infusion administration of propofol makes perfect sense as a phrase. Aug 1, 2016 at 6:44
  • Of course in some cases, there's no doubt that the expanded form of an acronym is being ignored, especially where the acronym is so common that the speaker/writer may not even know what it's short for. For example, you might see something like ranging by radar detection; that is obviously not to be read as ranging by radio detection and ranging detection (which is utter nonsense). But you can't really make any sweeping statements about whether this is universally so or not; it depends on the acronym and the context. Aug 1, 2016 at 6:49
  • "administration by continuous infusion" sounds fine, as is turning it to "CI administration"; putting a 3-word phrase together (without any linking words) often sounds ugly regardless of meaning so you're maybe confused by that, as against any semantic issues.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 9 at 8:40
  • 'Rules' are relaxed to a degree hereabouts. Think of 'PIN number'. Aug 9 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


Excellent question, raising an issue commonly seen in scientific literature, in my experience. The answer is that scientific writers will often have it both ways, treating the acronym properly as an abbreviation or alternately as a standalone term. "I received an NIH grant," is quite common in scientific communication, rather than "I received a NIH grant" (the writer of the latter using the expanded acronym). Googling "an NIH grant" versus "a NIH grant" yields 78,800 vs. 19,500 hits, showing a clear preference for not using the expanded meaning of this acronym.

  • In this case, what would you advise of me? I still believe that "continuous infusion administration" sounds rather odd
    – Pete
    Aug 1, 2016 at 7:24
  • In this case, the administration of continuous infusion is an experimental condition, so CI is appropriate in the science-ese that treats an acronym as a noun in unexpanded form.
    – KWinker
    Aug 1, 2016 at 7:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.