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When you want to give a group of words an abbreviation or short form so it doesn't have to be repeated in long form each time, and it is plural, how would it be abbreviated on first reference? Would you add the "s" in the short form on first reference as below? What if the same document has singular references to the same abbreviation? I cannot find a clear answer in The Chicago Manual of Style.

The local bread companies (LBCs) are working together to sell more products . . . An LBC has the option to sell its products in another state. . . The LBC on the corner . . .etc.

  • This is purely a matter for style guides. But if your chosen style guide is silent on the issue, then the example you give seems to me clear and comprehensible. – JeremyC Jan 22 at 23:03
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As a matter of style, you can write yourself out of this situation by introducing the short form on the first non-plural occurrence of the full name:

The local bread companies are working together to sell more products . . . A local bread company (LBC) has the option to sell its products in another state. . . The LBC on the corner . . .

Or you can introduce a singular occurrence first:

A local bread company (LBC) serves the local population. The LBCs are working together to sell more products . . . An LBC has the option to sell its products in another state. . . The LBC on the corner . . .

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What you have found is a typical case where a 'limit' case is reached. There is now a preoccupation with shortening. The reason is not always clear. The use of initials of company and other names, especially those that are well known, is understandable. It has now become common, however, to save the effort of writing out phrases in full, for the sole reason of saving space or the effort of writing in full.

Your example is a case in point. My advice is that the first thing to do is to consider the reader before you consider the convenience of the writer. This is not a point about grammar, spelling or punctuation, of course.

For example, you write "CMOS". I, the reader, now have to google it to find that it stands for "complimentary metal-oxide-semiconductor." I now check fora while to see if I can find some other acronym that fits your question. Perhaps it might be a shortened version of book or article, but nothing springs to mind. This is one reason why at the very least most publishers recommend that the such an acronym should be introduced by putting the name/phrase in full immediately followed by the acronym/abbreviation in brackets.

Even this considerate approach is not perfect. Taking the example you give, for example, the shortening of 'local bread companies' to 'LBCs' does not send the reader googling for ages. But it does tend to put the onus on the reader to either memorise the acronym before moving on or trace back looking for the first mention.

Granted that such a practice is increasingly common and so must be accepted by the long-suffering reader, you run into a real problem, where the first word begins consonant whose letter name begins with a vowel. So if we are thinking of one of these 'LBCs'. we suffer pronunciation checkmate. If we are talking about a local bread company, do we say 'an LBC' as if "LBC" because we are saying "ellbeesea", which starts with a vowel, or do we keep the 'a', on the grounds that L stands for 'local'? There is no perfect answer to this.

Except, write it out in full. Then the dilemma does not arise. If you must, I should say you should focus on the sound and use 'an'. But that is a personal opinion.

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