Grammar Tip – The With Acronyms and Initialisms

In a previous blog, we discussed the use of the indefinite article, a or an, with acronyms and initialisms. Let’s now look at when to use a definite article, the, with these abbreviations.

(Acronyms are abbreviated words that can be pronounced as actual words, e.g., NAFTA or AIDS. Initialisms are abbreviations that must be pronounced as letters, e.g., LCBO.)

Use a definite article with an initialism if the spelled out term begins with “the” but is not covered in the initialism.

Correct

the United States of America = the U.S.A.

the United Nations = the UN

When “the” is not part of the full name, then it is not inserted before the initialism.

Correct

Credit Valley Hospital = CVH

Liquor Control Board of Ontario = LCBO

CVH has 800 beds.

LCBO increased its sales.

Acronyms are different. Do not use a definite article with an acronym.

Correct

NAFTA

UNICEF

The U.S. wants to open discussions on NAFTA.

(You would never write the NAFTA or the UNICEF — unless it is being used as an adjective: the NAFTA report.)

Note: Never follow an acronym or an initialism with a word that is part of the abbreviation. For example, you should never write “PIN number” as PIN already means “personal identification number.”

Is your head spinning? Frankly, this is an area of grammar that I suggest organizations put in their style guides so their staff don’t have to spend time working out the appropriate forms.

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