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Tip 40: Abbreviation, Acronym, or Initialism?

Any shortened form a word is an abbreviation. Acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms or initialisms.

An acronym is a special kind of abbreviation that uses (usually) the first letter of each word that it represents to form an all-letters-capitalized abbreviation (e.g., North Atlantic Treaty Organization is NATO). A true acronym can be pronounced as a word, such as OPEC, NATO, and HAZOP.

An initialism is just like an acronym, BUT it CANNOT be pronounced as a word. Instead, you have to say the individual letters (e.g., FBI, CIA, PTA) when you pronounce it.

Still, even though technically there is a difference between acronyms and initialisms, we treat them the same and we normally just call them all acronyms.