Style Boost: Acronym, Initialism or Abbreviation?

Last updated Jan 30, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

What’s the difference between an acronym, an initialism and an abbreviation? MA is the state abbreviation for Massachusetts. Or is MA the initialism for master of art? Arrgh, what do all these words mean?

Worry not. Help is at hand in this quick quiz. You’ll soon know how to impress (or annoy) your friends by correcting them when they don’t know their AWOL from their IQ.

Suricata with a thinking bubble that says "Acronym, Initialism or Abbreviation?"

Test yourself: acronym, initialism or abbreviation?

It’s very simple. Are the following examples of acronyms, initialisms or abbreviations?

1. BMW

2. NASA

3. St

4. St.

5. LOL

Scroll down for the answers and explanations.

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Quiz answers

1. BMW is an initialism. 

2. NASA is an acronym. 

3. St is a UK English abbreviation for street.

4. St. is a US English abbreviation for street

5. LOL can be an initialism or an acronym, trick question.

What are the rules to know the difference between acronym, initialism and abbreviation?

Acronyms and initialisms are both based on the first letters of the words they stand for. But an acronym can be read as a word, like NASA, AWOL and LOL. An initialism can’t be read as a word, like BMW, IQ and (according to some) LOL. An abbreviation is a shortened form of the word, like st and st., which are both short forms of street.

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Written by Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish- and French-to-English translator, an SEO blogger and a course creator. She is the founder of The Translator's Studio and the lead teacher on its courses. Connect with Gwenydd on LinkedIn or contact her through this website.

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