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?


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 '18 at 1:00
  • People familiar with IBM actually pronounce it "ibbem"? That's a new one to me.
    – stangdon
    Aug 27 '18 at 15:36

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