Answers to Questions About Abbreviations
Responses to some reader queries about abbreviation issues follow.
1. Which is the preferred abbreviation for “United States,” US or U.S.?
Both forms are correct, but, in the interests of consistency with the decline of the use of periods in abbreviations, the trend is to use US. (Note that the abbreviation should be used only as an adjective, not as a noun: “She was born in a US territory,” but not “She was born in the US.”)
2. When one abbreviates states, should there be any punctuation after, say, TX? And are both the T and the X capitalized?
The short form of state names — based on US Postal Service usage and technically considered a symbol rather than an abbreviation — omits periods, and both letters are capitalized. However, the symbol should be used only when listing an address or in a chart or other graphic element where space is at a premium. Newspaper style is to abbreviate according to The Associated Press Stylebook (for example, Tex.), but in many other periodicals and in most books, state names are usually spelled out in regular text.
3. I am teaching a business-writing course, and I want to know how to approach terms like SOP or any other abbreviation. Does one say “an SOP” or “a SOP”? I guess the same would apply to “getting a MA” or “getting an MA.”
Because we pronounce each letter in these terms (“ess-oh-pee” and “em-ay”), rather than treating them as words (“sop” and “mah”), the first sound determines whether we use a or an when we speak or write the abbreviation.
As with other words starting with the “ess” sound (especially or essential, for example), we precede SOP with an. The same goes for MA, just as in, say, eminent or embellishment.
Testing phrases vocally is usually reliable (an seems easier to say before these terms than a does), though there are exceptions: “An historic occasion” is easier — for me, at least — to say than “a historic occasion,” though an is “wrong.”
See this post for more information.
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