The 100 most important acronyms in English, Part 5: Government and military

Flags at the UN

This series is for people learning English as a second language. We explain some of the most common English acronyms and how to use them.

Countries and Governments

  1. "U.S.A./The U.S."

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    (The United States of America)

    People often refer to the United States of America as "The U.S." or "U.S.A." Between the two, "The U.S." is more common.

    I was born in the U.S.

    Note that you use "the" in front of "U.S." but not "U.S.A."

  2. "The UK"

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    (The United Kingdom)

    The "UK" is the country made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

    I studied abroad in the UK for a semester in college.

  3. "The EU"

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    (The European Union)

    The "EU" is an organization of European countries that was formed in the early 1990s.

    A majority of the countries in the EU use the Euro as their official currency.

  4. "The UN"

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    (The United Nations)

    The "UN" is an international organization that includes almost all of the countries in the world.

    She got a chance to speak at the UN about her humanitarian work.

Government Agencies

  1. "The FBI"

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    (The Federal Bureau of Investigation)

    The FBI is a law enforcement agency in the United States. They do things like prevent terrorist attacks within the U.S. and investigate big crimes like large-scale murders, bank robberies, and organizations that sell drugs.

    When someone joins the FBI they have to go through a really thorough background check.

  2. "The CIA"

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    (The Central Intelligence Agency)

    The "CIA" is an agency of the U.S. government which collects information about other countries, terrorist suspects, and so on.

    I was watching this movie about a CIA spy who has to go undercover to prevent a missile attack on the UN.

  3. "The KGB"

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    (The Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti)

    The "KGB" was a security and intelligence agency in the Soviet Union. Most English speakers know the name "KGB", although not many people know what it stands for.

    Did you know that he's a former KGB officer?

  4. "NASA"

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    (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

    "NASA" is the organization in the United States that's responsible for missions in outer space.

    My dream when I was a kid was to become an engineer at NASA.

  5. "The DMV"

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    (The Department of Motor Vehicles)

    In the U.S., each state has a "DMV". The DMV is where you would go to get a driver's license or a license plate for your car. DMV's are widely disliked in the U.S. because the service there is often slow and unfriendly.

    I dread having to go to the DMV to renew my license.


  1. "WWII"

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    (World War Two)

    In writing, the second world war is often referred to as "WWII". When we talk about it out loud, we usually say "World War Two".

    Both of our grandfathers fought in WWII.

  2. "POW"

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    (Prisoner of war)

    A soldier who is captured and held by another military force is a "POW".

    He was held in a POW camp for over two years.

  3. "HQ"

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    "Headquarters" is the main location for an organization. It's where things are planned.

    We have new orders from HQ.

    People also use "HQ" in a lot of non-military situations as well. For example, you can call a company's main office "HQ".

  4. "ETA"

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    (Estimated time of arrival)

    When you're traveling somewhere, the "ETA" is when you think you will arrive at your destination. In addition to the military, you can often hear "ETA" used on airplane flights:

    Our ETA in Chicago is approximately 11:35 AM.

  5. "MIA"

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    (Missing in action)

    A soldier who is lost is "MIA".

    You can also use this term to talk about a friend or coworker who you haven't heard from in a long time.

    Stefan has been MIA for the last few weeks.

  6. "DOA"

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    (Dead on arrival)

    A person who has already died before help arrived is "DOA".

    Police officers, EMTs, doctors, and so on also use this term.

    We arrived on the scene at 9:05 PM. The victims were DOA.

Next: Organizations and people

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