Difference Between Acronym and Initialism

Main Difference – Acronym vs Initialism

Acronym and Initialisms are two types of abbreviations that are becoming more and more popular in the modern society. An abbreviation refers to any shortened form of a word.  Both types of abbreviations are made up of initial letters of a group of words. However, the main difference between acronym and initialism is that an acronym can be pronounced as if it is a word whereas initialism can’t be read or pronounced as a word itself.

What is an Acronym

An acronym is made from the first letters of a string of words. The term acronym was coined in 1940s to identify abbreviations and contractions of phrases pronounced as words. The most important feature of an acronym is that it can be pronounced as if it a separate word. For example, we pronounce NASA ((National Aeronautics and Space Administration) as a single word, not as separate letters.  (/ˈnæs·ə/) Some other examples of acronyms include,

FIFA – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football))

OPEC –Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

RAM – Random Access Memory

AKA – Also Known As

LOL – Laugh Out Loud

RIP – Rest In Peace

It is also important to notice that some acronyms have been in the usage for so long that they are accepted as words. Given below are some examples of such words.

Scuba – Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

Laser-  Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

AidsAcquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

However, keep in mind that not all acronyms are formed by the initial letters, some acronyms contain non-initial letters as well.

       Radar – Radio Detection and Ranging

       Interpol – International Criminal Police OrganizationMain Difference - Acronym and Initialism

What is Initialism

An initialism is an abbreviation that consists of initial letters of a group of words, pronounced separately. As explained in the definition, a special feature that can be observed in initialism is that this is not pronounced as a word but as separate letters. For example, let us look at the abbreviation, USA (United States of America) Here, we pronounce this word as separate letters. (/ juːɛsˈeɪ /) Some more examples of initialism include,

HSBC – Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

UFO – Unidentified Flying Object

FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation

CSI- Crime Scene Investigation

HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus

MBA – Masters of Buisness Administration

BFF – Best Friends Forever

The concept of Initialism came into general usage in the mid-twentieth Century, by this time, acronyms were already in the usage. Let us now summarize the difference between acronym and initialism.Difference Between Acronym and Initialism

Difference Between Acronym and Initialism


Acronym is an abbreviation consisting first letters, pronounced as a separate word.

Initialism is an abbreviation consisting of first letters, pronounced separately.


Acronym is pronounced as a new word.

In Initialism, letters are spelt out separately.

Separate words

Acronyms can be used as separate words.

Initialisms are not considered as separate words.


Acronyms are not always formed by the initial letters of a string of words.

Initialisms are formed by the initials of a string of words.

Difference Between Acronym and Initialism-infographic


Image Courtesy:

“FIFA Gets a Red Card” by Mike Licht (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

“HK KFC” by Terence Ong – Own work.(CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons 

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