Grammar Tip – Articles With Acronyms

Terry’s question: “I tend to not use the word ‘the’ in front of acronyms, but I see this used in documents more and more.  Which is correct:  ‘REIP provides regional outreach services to Northeastern Ontario’ or ‘The REIP provides regional outreach services to Northeastern Ontario’?  If the word ‘program’ is added after REIP, I would use ‘the.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: Grammatically, the word “the” is termed a definite article. (“A” or “an” are indefinite articles.) Most of us have been taught to use an article in front of nouns.

However, remember “the exceptions to the rules” I often talk about.

When using an acronym as a noun, do not put an article before the abbreviation. (An acronym is an abbreviated word pronounced as a word.)

Examples (Correct: The acronym is serving as a noun.)

REIP provides regional outreach services to Northeastern Ontario.

I know we need them, but PINs are driving me crazy.

On the other hand, when you are using the acronym as an adjective, you then add “the.”

Examples (Correct: The acronym is an adjective.)

The NAFTA Secretariat is comprised of a Canadian Section, a Mexican Section and a United States Section.

The REIP assessment was carried out last week.

Note: When using acronyms, avoid redundancy. Don’t spell out the final letter in your acronym.

Examples (Incorrect — redundant)

The NAFTA agreement (NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Agreement)

The PIN number (PIN stands for Personal Identification Number)

And yes. I do recommend defining any acronym before using it — if you suspect the reader is not familiar with the term.