Why it is 'an' SEO but the abbrevation is 'a' Search Engine Optimizer?



The article for SEO is 'an' ie. 'an SEO' but Search Engine Optimizer ( Abbreviation of SEO ) is called as 'a Search Engine Optimizer'. Why do these variations?

Sathiya Kumar

Posted 2015-10-12T07:06:30.270

Reputation: 381

https://www.englishclub.com/pronunciation/a-an.htm - Here the problems are explained in detail. – rogermue – 2015-10-12T12:34:09.043

4As an aside, Search Engine Optimizer is not an abbreviation of SEO. SEO is an acronym. An acronym is where you take the first letter of each or some of the words, and an abbreviation is where you shorten a word (e.g. Mr. for Mister). It is also the other way around - SEO is an acronym of Search Engine Optimizer - Search Engine Optimzer is not an acronym of SEO. Also, SEO is usually taken to be an acronym of Search Engine Optimization (the field, rather than the person doing it). – JBentley – 2015-10-12T13:02:49.363

3@JBentley Actually, SEO isn't an acronym: it's only an acronym if you pronounce it as a word, rather than a series of letters. If you pronounce the single letters then it's an abbreviation. So, for example, NSA is an abbreviation (because you pronounce it "n-s-a") while NASA is an acronym (because you pronounce it "na-sa", rather than "n-a-s-a"). Either way, of course, "Search Engine Optimizer" isn't an abbreviation of SEO, it's the other way round. – Max Williams – 2015-10-12T13:45:28.547

3As far as I know SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, not Optimiser. It's an activity or an area of expertise, not term I would use to refer to a tool or a person. A person might be an 'SEO consultant', 'SEO expert' etc. – bdsl – 2015-10-12T15:54:40.550

1When I was in school I was graded down for writing "an ROTC scholarship" instead of "a ROTC scholarship". I did a lot of research to try to support my wording of it, and the research I did only showed that there is no firm consensus on this question. Some people think "a" or "an" should always match the pronounciation of the first word, others think it should match the pronounciation of the first letter of the abbreviation. Of course, some abbreviations (like SQL or ROTC) can be either spelled or pronounced like acronyms, so it gets even messier. – Todd Wilcox – 2015-10-12T16:50:49.763


Maulik's answer is correct -- it comes down to how the word is pronounced, not how the word is spelled. Thus, to write 'a/an' in English, you must be able to pronounce English. Merriam Webster did a great video on this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NP8bWU6zIos (not enough rep to comment, but felt this video is very useful)

– Greggo – 2015-10-13T02:59:46.837

@ToddWilcox FWIW i'd write "an ROTC scholarship" too. Grading down for it seems stupid since you could clearly argue either case, as you say, and an english professor should appreciate that. – Max Williams – 2015-10-13T07:48:41.943

1@MaxWilliams That depends on which definition you go with. For example, some dictionaries will define acronyms as ones which are pronounced as words, and initialisms as ones where you don't. Others, such as Oxford English Dictionary, or Wikipedia, refer to both types as acronyms. An abbreviation usually means a shortened word, but can also be used as an umbrella term to include things like acronyms, initialisms, contractions, etc. But if you want to be precise, you should refer to SEO as either an acronym or an initialism. – JBentley – 2015-10-13T23:43:21.283

1@JBentley ah i didn't realise there was so much disagreement, thanks :) – Max Williams – 2015-10-14T07:27:50.237



Because when you pronounce 'SEO', it starts with the vowel 'es' (listen to it), in Hindi- 'ए' (सीओ). The rule of articles apply the way we 'pronounce' the word.

When you write it the full term - Search engine optimizer, you pronounce each word differently so it is 'a search engine optimizer' (अ सर्च एंजिन ओप्टिमाईज़र)

Even further, if you pronounce SEO and have a noun following it, you still use 'an' - I know Tim who is 'an SEO expert'.

So, to conclude...

You certainly require an SEO
A search engine optimizer helps us bring our site up on SERPs
Tim is an SEO expert

Maulik V

Posted 2015-10-12T07:06:30.270

Reputation: 66 188

4Excellent explanation with examples :) +1 for our 'ए' ;-) – Sathiya Kumar – 2015-10-12T07:14:10.407

2I don't understand the relevance of Hindi here. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2015-10-12T10:01:46.390

4No relevance. I just typed in Hindi so that he understands it better by identifying the 'pronunciation' of the word @LightnessRacesinOrbit – Maulik V – 2015-10-12T10:04:36.447

2By the same rule, if you have an initialism that is sometimes pronounced spelt-out and sometimes as a word, you could have either form, so "A SQL database" and "An SQL database", for example are both correct approaches to the two different pronunciations of SQL. – Jon Hanna – 2015-10-12T10:12:09.473

"A SQL database" sounds awkward when said - most people would say "An". This is the reason for the extra n - without it you have to truncate the "A" sound, or put a little pause in after it, which is vocally a bit awkward. The "n" makes it flow better. – Max Williams – 2015-10-12T13:47:50.897

7@MaxWilliams Except when you pronounce "SQL" as "sequel". – Residuum – 2015-10-12T14:00:06.573

@Residuum it certainly is the case that if you replace a set of initials with a regular word which sounds a bit like those initials, then the rules for whether you say "a" or "an" might change. For example, i like to refer to FBI agents as "fubby agents" and so i would say "A fubby agent" rather than "An fubby agent". – Max Williams – 2015-10-12T14:06:48.647

@MaxWilliams: For better or for worse, many programmers (>30%?) actually do pronounce SQL as "SEQUEL", partly because that was the original name, some decades ago. It's an occupational hazard. – Nathan Tuggy – 2015-10-12T15:40:23.923

@NathanTuggy I know, but it's confusing to bring that into a discussion about whether to say "A" or "An" for a completely different abbreviation. "Sequel" is like a "nickname" for SQL, it's not really what it stands for - not any more, anyway. – Max Williams – 2015-10-12T15:46:47.023

2@MaxWilliams The point is that "a" vs "an" isn't about how a word is written, is about how it's pronounced. For SQL there is no canonical pronunciation; there are two. One person will say "a sequel database" while another says "an ess-cue-ell database". Hence both "a SQL" and "an SQL" are correct (and either one may trip up the portion of the population that pronounces it the other way). Distinguishing between pronunciation and orthography is key to using "a" and "an" correctly. – John Kugelman – 2015-10-12T16:27:25.387

Via Greggo comes this M-W video on a/an

– Nathan Tuggy – 2015-10-13T03:11:35.673

1@JohnKugelman I concede that. However given that this question was about whether to say "a" or "an" before "SEO" then getting into the multiple pronounciations of SQL, without the question having mentioned anything about SQL, seems off topic and potentially confusing. – Max Williams – 2015-10-13T07:45:30.047