Acronyms and initials: apostrophes and plurals
Supporting your studies
Acronyms and initials are used in many fields as short forms for titles. This page explains when and how to use apostrophes with them. We explain the difference between initials and acronyms, how to use straightforward plurals with no apostrophe, and using the Possessive apostrophe with singular nouns or plural nouns.
Apostrophes are also used for contractions such as 'isn’t' and 'don’t', but you should avoid using contractions in formal academic writing.
Differences between initials and acronyms
Letters used as short forms are only acronyms when they can be pronounced like a word. Otherwise, they are simply initials. Apostrophes are used the same way with them both.
Acronyms describe when the first letter, or letters, of words in a title or phrase are used to form a short series of letters which stand for the item. If this short form can be read as a word it is an acronym. If the short form doesn't make a work, these are just initials.
Examples of initials include:
- BA: Bachelor of Arts
- BST: British Summer Time
Examples of acronyms include:
- TES: Times Educational Supplement
- UFO: Unidentified Flying Object
Straightforward plurals, when there is more than one of an item/acronym, do not have apostrophes.
- Those UFOs are huge.
Possessives show ownership or in some sense belonging to something.
Singular examples (when something belongs to one item or acronym):
- The TES’s story about the UFOs was interesting.
- There is a UFO overhead. The UFO’s lights are very bright.
Think: one UFO, or one TES, then apostrophe s.
Plural Example (when something belongs to multiple items or acronyms):
- There are five UFOs over there. The UFOs’ lights are different colours.
Two or more UFOs (as a straightforward plural) followed by an apostrophe.
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