Pluralization Of Initialisms and Acronyms

Caveat: The purpose of this series is neither to proclaim myself as a grammarian nor to despise people who are still unfamiliar with common grammar mistakes. It is to serve as a reminder that there are rules in English that refute those mistakes. I am well aware that I still have a lot to learn in English and I will not stop digging those rules to share them here. If you happen to be a guilty party, please remember that I shared these blog posts in the spirit of constructive criticism.

It has been a decade since I published a post about grammar pet peeves so it is high time for this “mash note” to come out.

The topic that we will be weaving for this episode is another very common grammar pet peeve: initialisms being pluralized by adding apostrophe s (‘s) as in, MIC‘s for Medical Insurance Cards and TRA’s for Travel Request Authorizations. Needless to say that is generally how they do it in the office and it is, of course, out of line in Standard English.

Let me share my knowledge about the subject. But before anything else, I need to inform you that way back school days, I can clearly remember that I did not encounter the word initialism in all my English classes. Abbreviations like CIA, FBI, NASA, OPEC, UNICEF, and WHO were all identified by our English instructors and professors as acronyms. It was only when I started working as a stenographer and blogging three years ago that I stumbled upon another variant of abbreviation, which is initialism. As a result, each time I introduce the word, the default position of those who do not know it is skepticism.

Note that any shortened form of a word is an abbreviation (e.g., etc. for etcetera, LMHO for laughing my head off, or Mon for Monday). Acronyms are special kinds of abbreviations, such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). This makes them a subset of abbreviations. All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. This is where initialisms appear on the scene.

Initialism is another type of abbreviation and is often confused with acronym because it is made up of letters too, only it cannot be pronounced as a word. MIC and TRA are examples of initialism because they are made up of the first letters Medical Insurance Card and Travel Request Authorization, respectively, but they cannot be pronounced as words. On the other hand, PAG-ASA and NASA are acronyms because even though they also made up of the first letters of their respective agencies’ names (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration) they are pronounced as words, PAG-ASA and NASA, and not by spelling out the letters.

Remember these to grease the wheels: Initialisms are made from the first letter (or letters) of a string of words, but cannot be pronounced as words themselves. Acronyms are made from the first letter (or letters) of a string of words but are pronounced as if they were words themselves. Abbreviations are any shortened form of a word.

Going back to the main topic, I already read the rule on how to pluralize initialisms, when I was editing a Transcript of Stenographic Notes in 2011, on Chicago Manual of Style’s website. It is actually simple. Just treat the acronym itself as a word with its own meaning so you should be able to add that little s” without fretting (e.g., GROs for Guest Relations Officers; IBIFs for International Business Itinerary Forms; MICs for Medical Insurance Cards; PROs for Public Relations Officers; RFPs for Request For Proposals; and TRAs for Travel Request Authorizations).

The exception is when the first letter of an initialism indicates the plural item. For example, COE for Certificate Certificates of Employment and MOA for Memorandum Memoranda of Agreement. Their respective initialisms cannot be COEs or MOAs nor CsOE or MsOA.

What about those initialisms that end in letter “s” like GPS and SOS?

This is where the apostrophe s (‘s) is put to good use. According to and to cut to the chase, it is a good idea to separate the final s from pluralizing s with an apostrophe (e.g., GPS’s and SOS’s).

So, please do not forget to up the ante against that pet peeve the next time around.

Related Articles

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How to make abbreviations plural by

15 Annoying Grammatical Mistakes That People Always Make

9 Common Grammatical Errors by

Common Errors: What Not to Write by

12 Comments Add yours

  1. cheesecake says:

    LOLs not LOL’s


    1. Sony Fugaban says:

      You made me laugh out louds, pun intented.


      1. cheesecake says:

        Most of the time we don’t care about it but it’s good to know the proper way of doing it.

        (ayan formal na reply haha)


      2. Sony Fugaban says:

        Ikaw talaga oh. Siyempre alam kong for humor’s sake lang yung comment mo kanina. Be that as it may, I really appreciate it.


  2. dvrjar001 says:

    Thank you for the distinction between an acronym and an initialism! You have actually ended a long debate between me and a friend (it is always refreshing to learn something new).


    1. Sony Fugaban says:

      Glad to be of help in that debate then.

      Thank you for taking time to comment on this post. It is much appreciated.


  3. beth says:

    Very informative post, Sony! I usually take time out to drop by your blog and read the post in full when it’s about grammar. Hina ko dun e! 🙂 (But don’t worry, I always read your travel posts!)


    1. Sony Fugaban says:

      Beth, I certainly believe na hindi ka mahina sa grammar. I’ve read a decent number of your blog posts and I didn’t see even a tinge of grammar mishap whatsoever. In any case, I truly appreciate the compliment.


  4. ara says:

    Am not gonna take the advice of separating final ss with pluralizing ss with apostrophes, nope. (Now that looks bad, but I still won’t.)


    1. Sony Fugaban says:

      You have the freedom to choose, Ara.


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