Pronunciation of abbreviations

9

Does the abbreviation pronounce as a whole phrase? For example:

• etc - et cetera;
• i.e. - id est;
• e.g. - exemplī grātiā.

I would add here & and et al. – bytebuster – 2013-01-26T20:10:10.050

3

There is no rule that covers all abbreviations, and if in doubt, it's a good idea to consult a dictionary to find the generally accepted pronunciation.

Since the abbreviations you mention all come from Latin, I'll mention a few guidelines for those. In general, if the abbreviation is two letters separated by a period, the individual letters are pronounced:

i.e. is pronounced eye - yee
e.g. is pronounced yee - gee

These are formally known as initialisms, but that is of little help, since what makes an initialism an initialism is pronouncing the individual letters separately.

On the other hand, where a syllable has been borrowed from Latin, the full Latin phrase is pronounced:

etc. is pronounced et cetera

These are not firm rules even for Latin and exceptions do exist, such as pp. which is not an initialism and is pronounced pages.

When we're talking about abbreviations that don't come directly from Latin, it's a bit harder. For example, we have

Mr. which is pronounced mister
CEO which is pronounced cee - yee - oh
NASA which is pronounced naa - saa

There are a few hints such as capitalization that can guide you as to the proper pronunciation, but English is riddled with exceptions, and the best way to learn this sort of thing is to (1) listen to English spoken by a variety of native speakers, and (2) invest in a good dictionary that you can look up pronunciations in.

3I believe style guides recommend pronouncing these Latin initialisms as "that is" and "for example" when reading out loud, despite the fact that some/many pronounce the letters. – Cerberus – 2013-01-26T20:14:27.283

4Pronunciation is probably regional. but I'm not familiar with the "yee" at the beginning of a word or expression; simply "ee" is more common. In the middle of an abbreviation such as "CEO" there may be an elision, but I've also heard a glottal stop dividing the syllables. For "NASA", I think "naa - suh" is the usual, with stress on only the first syllable. – barbara beeton – 2013-01-26T20:24:00.673

2

Most abbreviations are pronounced as the entire phrase they stand for: etc. is read as "et cetera", Sgt. is read as "Sergeant", Cmdr is read as "Commander", and so forth.

Most initialisms and acronyms, on the other hand, are pronounced as only the letters: i.e. is read as "eye ee", e.g. is read as "ee gee", ASAP is read as "ay ess ay pee", and so forth.

I believe that a good rule of thumb for these is that if there is a period after every letter, or if it is in all caps, then pronounce each letter by itself. Otherwise say the word or phrase that the abbreviation stands for. Naturally, as with most things in English, there will be exceptions.

3I've often heard ASAP pronounced as "ay-sap", too, showing that you're entirely correct when you mention that any general rule will be riddled with exceptions. – J.R. – 2013-01-26T22:50:51.260

I've also heard ASAP pronounced as "ah-sap". Some style guides say to write ie and eg without periods, some only write the final one (eg. ie.). Some people will often replace the latin abbreviation with English: "e.g. like this" becomes "for example like this", and "i.e. a quarter" as "that is, a quarter". – Hugo – 2013-01-27T07:01:19.597