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Using apostrophes with acronyms

Find out the differences between acronyms and initials, and how to use apostrophes correctly with each of them

Acronyms and initials are used in many fields as short forms for titles, so it's important to know when and how to use apostrophes with them.

Although you can also use apostrophes in contractions like 'isn’t' and 'don’t', you should avoid using contractions in formal academic writing.

Differences between initials and acronyms

Acronyms and initials describe when the first letter, or letters, of words in a phrase or title make a shorter series of letters to stand for the item. If a short form can be read as a word, it is an acronym. If the short form doesn't make a word, the letters are initials. 

Examples of acronyms:

  • TES: Times Educational Supplement
  • UFO: Unidentified Flying Object

Examples of initials: 

  • BA: Bachelor of Arts
  • BST: British Summer Time

Using apostrophes 

Both acronyms and initials use apostrophes in the same way.  

Straightforward plurals

When there is more than one of an item or acronym, you don't need an apostrophe.

Example:

  • Those UFOs are huge.

Possessives

When you use an apostrophe to show ownership of something, you need to know how many items there are. 

When an item belongs to one item/acronym (singular), you add an apostrophe and an 's' to the acronym. For example:

  • The TES’s story about the UFOs was interesting.
  • There is a UFO overhead. The UFO’s lights are very bright.

When something belongs to multiple items or acronyms (plural), you add an apostrophe to the plural word of the acronym. For example:

  • There are five UFOs over there. The UFOs’ lights are different colours.

Download our acronyms revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your acronym revision notes.

Do you want help with acronyms, apostrophes and grammar?

We can help. Book your Academic Skills Unit (ASK) tutorial now at academicskills@port.ac.uk

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