Which is right—“a SEO” or “an SEO”?
I recently had an interesting conversation about whether to use “a” or “an” with the initialism “SEO.” A colleague of mine uses “a SEO” and I asked her why. She said that “SEO” stands for “search engine optimization” and that an “a” goes before the word “search.” Right, I said. But what if you don’t say “search engine optimization” and you say “es-ee-oh” instead? Wouldn’t you use “an SEO”? A good question for My Web Writers!
Use “an” when the acronym or initialism begins with a vowel sound.
She then asked me why I use “an.” I use “an” because of how the word sounds when you say it. Since I say “es-ee-oh” when I see “SEO” (try saying that five times fast!), I use “an. ” Just like when I say “an egg” or “an elephant” or “salt begins with an ‘es,’” the same goes for any word, acronym, or initialism that begins with a vowel sound when I say it. For example:
- An OSHA guideline is not a new standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations.
- An SLA template is what you should use when creating your fleet management service contract.
- An FBI agent was convicted in a 1982 mob murder this week in Florida.
Of course, if I were to say the words to the initialisms in the previous examples, I would use “a” where the first sound is a consonant:
- A service level agreement template is what you should use when creating your fleet management service contract.
- A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent was convicted in a 1982 mob murder this week in Florida.
but for the acronym OSHA–
- An Occupational Health and Safety Administration guideline is not a new standard or regulation.
Would you trust the opinions of an SEO writer?
So how do you say SEO? Bryan Phelps at Big Leap had the same question in his blog “a SEO” or “an SEO”? He asked around and got different answers. When your SEO group has this question, it’s a good idea to determine which way is best for your team and then add it to your company’s style guide to ensure consistent usage from all writers on your team. Sometimes good grammar depends on how you hear the words that you say!