Difference Between Acronym and Initialism

Acronym vs Initialism

Most of us are aware of the concept of acronyms as we hear so many of them in our daily lives. We use these acronyms while writing and quickly recognize them because of our experience. While writing date, we write Jan for January and Oct for October. This is called abbreviation or shortening a word by leaving out the last few alphabets of a word. Acronyms are shortened forms of a phrase or series of words. They become new words in themselves. Initialism is another way to shorten a phrase or series of words, and that is slightly different from acronym. This article attempts to find out these differences for the readers.


The words like sonar and laser are acronyms in themselves though many consider them as English words. When first letters from a series of words or a phrase are taken up to make a pronounceable word, it is called as an acronym such as NASA. NASA is formed by taking up first letters from the name of aeronautical agency of the country called National Aeronautics and Space Administration. To speak up such a long name obviously takes effort and it is also problematical when writing. Today NASA has become so popular that it is enough to say or write NASA instead of the full name of the organization. Just like NASA, there are hundreds of acronyms in place for long phrases or series of words that have become words in themselves because of the fact that they were pronounceable like Sonar and Laser. To speak up North Atlantic Treaty Organization every time the phrase needs mentioning is obviously a hard task, but NATO is not only easy, it also saves time and effort.


Initialism is another way to shorten or abbreviate a long word or a series of words. In fact, to someone not aware of the difference between Initialism and acronym, Initialism might appear as same. For example, the acronym for the Federal Bureau of Investigation would obviously be formed by taking up the first letters of the three words. In fact, it is FBI, but it is not called acronym. It is rather Initialism as it is not a pronounceable word but spoken as three individual letters that are interconnected. We know instantly what is meant by IT (Information Technology) and now know that it is not an acronym but Initialism.

What is the difference between Acronym and Initialism?

• If the attempt to shorten the words or phrase is by taking up the first letters of the individual words, the resulting word is called an acronym if it is pronounceable while it is Initialism if the resulting word cannot be pronounced.

• Hence LASER, formed by taking up first letters from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation is an acronym because it becomes a word on its own. On the other hand, FBI remains Initialism because the resulting word is not pronounceable.