A vs An in front of an acronym beginning with L?

Subject: A vs An in front of an acronym beginning with L?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: Technical Writing <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Robyn Richards <robynrrr -at- hotmail -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 12 Jan 2009 08:02:48 -0500

Robyn Richards wondered: <<I've had a quick look for usage of "a" vs
"an" in front of an acronym beginning with a vowel sound, for example
a (an?) LSP. It seems there is conflicting information. I just wanted
to get a quick poll on what people are using.>>

The information should not be conflicting because there is no debate
about the rule, but the interpretations for each specific case often
vary. First off, you need to distinguish correctly between
abbreviations (any shortening of a word, including "avg." for
average), initialisms (abbreviations such as "IBM", formed from the
first letter of each word), and true acronyms (initialisms such as
"laser" that are pronounced as words).

The rule for "a" vs. "an" is the same in each case: if you pronounce
the abbreviation with an initial vowel, use "an". The harder part is
deciding when something is pronounced as a word, and when it is
pronounced letter by letter. If the string of letters is
unpronouncable, it's easy to decide, but even then, many words aren't
clear. For example, the SCSI interface is pronounced as individual
letters by those who aren't familiar with it (an ess-cee-ess-eye
interface), but as a word by geeks ("scuzzy", though some early
adopters tried to get "sexy" adopted).

In such cases, the only way to be sure is to be intimately familiar
with the way the abbreviation is pronounced by those who use it a lot
in their professional discourse. In your case, I'd ask your subject-
matter experts whether they say "ell-ess-pee" or "lisp", then apply
the standard rule.

Geoff Hart (www.geoff-hart.com)
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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A vs An in front of an acronym beginning with L: From: Robyn Richards

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