Use of the article "the" before an acronym

Discussion in 'English Only' started by gardenia1973, May 27, 2009.

  1. gardenia1973 New Member

    Is it necessary to use "the" before an acronym? For example, in a sentence, you would write "...... at the University of Western Australia". Would that become "at the UWA" if you choose to use an acronym instead? Doesn't sound right but I'm open to views! Many thanks!
  2. HalloweenHJB

    HalloweenHJB Senior Member

    Indianapolis, Indiana
    American English, Midwest USA
    In American English, with university names, we tend to omit the article. "I am a student at U of I [University of Illinois]" or "I graduated from UVA [The University of Virginia]".
  3. gardenia1973 New Member

    Many thanks for your input. What if it's not a university, say a quasi-government body that is often referred to by its acronym? For example:

    This product may not be compatible with (the) FDA standards.
    This proposal will have the support of (the) FDA.

    Seems to vary depending on context and usage, right?
  4. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    Yes, it does. I don't know if there is a particular rule, gardenia1973. It is a difficult matter for non-natives, I imagine. We native speakers seem to pick it up through osmosis.

    Your first sentence, for me, would always be "FDA standards" and the second would be "the FDA". For those particular examples I think it's related to the fact that FDA standards is a noun phrase (or you could say that FDA is an adjective modifying standards) in the first sentence while it acts as a noun in the second sentence, but that doesn't hold true in all examples.

    UCLA stands for the University of California at Los Angeles. I would say "not compatible with UCLA requirements" but I would also say "will have the support of UCLA". I would not add "the" in front of UCLA. I have no explanation for the difference, unfortunately.

    We have some very experienced participants here. One of them may have a suggestion or an insight.
  5. gardenia1973 New Member

    Thank you, JamesM, for your comments. My inclination would be to use the article in the way that you have described.

    Though my mother tongue is not English, I seem to have picked up a lot of its usage "through osmosis" as well ;). Unfortunately I have a hard time trying to explain things to people who query (and sometimes rectify) my usage, which is why I'm seeking "rules and explanations" at this forum. Anyway, thanks for the assurance.:D
  6. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, there is no hard and fast rule. You just need to know that you say 'the UN', 'the UK', 'the US', 'the EU', 'the CID' (Criminal Investigation Bureau), 'the FBI' (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and so on - in these cases though you would use the if the abbreviations were expanded, so this might explain why it is retained.
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Think about the function of "FDA" in the two sentences in post #3.

    In the first, "FDA" is really an adjective modifying standards. What kind of standards? FDA standards.
    No article is required.
    The sentence would still be correct with an article, but in this case the article is really attached to "standards", not "FDA":
    This product may not be compatible with the (FDA) standards.

    In the second, "FDA" is a noun and the article is required.
  8. WordRef1 Senior Member

    California, USA
    English - America
    It feels to me like the reason words like FDA keep the the and universities don't is because the government entities are official and there's only one of them and everyone knows them. (well, we know FBI and FDA. I'm sure there are many other less well known government entities, but the rest of the explanation holds).
  9. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    For some reason, teachers of English to non-native speakers seem to mistakenly teach that initials are acronyms. Acronyms are words, i.e. pronounceable. They are not initials, e.g. USA.


    Initial and acronym, the difference
    Acronym, initials, and initialism

    If the UVA (University of Virginia) were an acronym, it would be pronounced and would be the Spanish word for "grape."
  10. JimboFr Senior Member

    British English
    A simple rule is to look up what the initials mean, and if you would need an article in the full version, then use one with the abbreviated version.
  11. WordRef1 Senior Member

    California, USA
    English - America
    Right, it's an abbreviation not an acronym. Though, when they say, "I go to UCLA" instead of "I go to the UCLA" it is being used like an acronym. (Though yes, one will say U-C-L-A and never "youkla"). And it's pretty clear that even if it's not exactly wrong to say "the UCLA", no one does. And yet, they will say, "I go to the University of California, Los Angeles" and I really doubt I'd ever hear that without the the. So, that rule isn't so simple as has been pointed out above.
  12. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    Actually, it's an initialism. An abbreviation would be something like Univ. Calif. at L.A.

    I have to say that I was unaware of the difference between an initialism and an acronym until I started participating in this board. I don't remember ever being taught the word "initialism". The misunderstanding about acronyms is not confined exclusively to non-native speakers. :eek:
  13. cycloneviv

    cycloneviv Senior Member

    Perth, Western Australia
    English - Australia
    Just to confirm, in this particular instance it is UWA, not the UWA. (I was a UWA student for some years.)
  14. Tammo New Member

    I am not really sure how to use articles before abbreviations, and before names of methods, e.g. Finite Element Method, etc.

    For example:
    In recent years, (the) Finite Element Method has been widely used ... is "the" necessary ?
    In recent years, (the) FEM has been widely used ...
    (The) Finite Element Method is based on the variational formulation of ....
    (The) FEM is based on the variational formulation of ...
    For (the) Finite Element Method, error estimates have recently been studied in ...
    For (the) FEM, error estimates have recently been studied in ...

    I think, these are common "prototypes" ... Could anybody comment on these ? Thanks !
  15. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi Tammo -welcome to the forums!:)

    When you use the full title, I would almost certainly use "the":
    In recent years, the Finite Element Method has been widely used

    When you abbreviate it to FEM, I probably wouldn't - but it depends what people normally say/write.

    When you've come across it, do people usually say/write FEM or the FEM?
  16. Tammo New Member


    I have found more times "the FEM" (e.g "In the FEM, the calculations are carried out ..."), than simply "FEM" ...
    ..but i have still no feeling about it ...
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012

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