In English language there are innumerable Acronyms, but what I don’t know is that when do we pronounce an acronym as one word and when as separate Letters?

  • For Instance, UNICEF is pronounced /ˈjuːnɪsef/, which sounds as a one word. On the other hand, IOM is pronounced /ʌɪəʊˈɛm / as though it was three words.

Are there any rules for Acronyms pronunciation?

1 Answer 1


From my experience, it is usually from usage, but seems to follow an informal rule that if it looks like a pronounceable word it is often used that way and usually more than 3 letters.

Examples of being used as a word are

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization
FIFA - Fédération Internationale de Football Association
NAFTA - North American Free Trade Agreement

Examples of not

iOS - Apple's Operating System
AWS - Amazon Web Services
IOU - short for "I owe you"
IOC - International Olympic Committee

An exception is

IBM - International Business Machine

which does get pronounced as a word by people familiar with the company, usually in the context of I've Been Moved, referring to the extensive relocations which occur.

  • 1
    And, unfortunately, there are those that are both, like SQL, which for some is Ess Queue Ell and some is Sequel. Also, the military have a massive number of acronyms, most (but not all) of which are pronounced as separate letters, and which a recruit is expected to learn on the job.
    – Andrew
    Aug 27, 2018 at 1:00
  • 1
    People familiar with IBM actually pronounce it "ibbem"? That's a new one to me.
    – stangdon
    Aug 27, 2018 at 15:36

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