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"the" with abbreviations / acronyms

English translation: play it as it lies

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12:25 Mar 8, 2007
English to English translations [PRO]
Linguistics
English term or phrase: "the" with abbreviations / acronyms
I'm having a dispute with one of my clients, who's asking me to write in a way that I find grammatically incorrect.

It's all about the small word "the".

Take for example, two German organisations that operate internationally, and retain their German names, or rather, the German abbreviations of their names:

" ...in the training project that (the) THW has been implementing together with (the) GTZ."

My opinion is that we write "the" with organisations where the letters are spoken individually:

the BBC = "the bee-bee-cee"
the UN = "the yoo-enn"

but we don't need "the" with true acronyms:

UNICEF = "yooniseff"
NATO = "neyto"

Since both the German organisations mentioned above are spoken as letters (tee-heytch-double-yoo / gee-tee-zed), I should include the "the"s, shouldn't I??


I'm despairingly wondering if I should really stick to my guns here, or give in to deleting the "the"s because that's what the client wants ......
Craig Meulen
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:16
English translation:play it as it lies
Explanation:
I don't think there's any general rule, or at least not regarding acronyms versus abbreviations. For instance, you surely wouldn't say (or write) 'we heard the news on the CNN, so we called a spokesperson at the IBM to see what they had to say about it. And of course, the MS had their opinion on the subject as usual.

Some abbrevistions take a definite article (the NYSE and the UN, for instance) and some don't. Generally speaking, I would say that most abbreviated company names do not take a definite article, but of course there are exceptions (such as the BBC).

If I had to suggest a rule, I'd say you can only use a definite article when the last term of the abbreviation can take a definite article in normal usage (BBC, CBC, UN, etc. can thus take definite articles, but IBM, TRW, NEC, BMW, TWA, etc. cannot).

The article is normally used in German, but that doesn't mean it should be used in all cases in English.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 4 hrs (2007-03-08 17:07:09 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Another aspect is that you don't use articles with proper names in English, so you don't use an article with an abbreviation of a company name if you regard it as a proper name, with certain exceptions of course. You don't say 'the International Business Machines' or even 'the International Business Machines company' (which would match the German formulation 'die Firma XXX'), but simply Internatational Business Machines and thus also IBM. Of course you would say 'the IBM organisation', but there 'the' refers to 'organisation'.

Ultimately, IMO this comes down to usage, and to echo David, that's where it makes a difference whether you are a native speaker.
Selected response from:

Ken Cox
Local time: 17:16
Grading comment
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
4 +2play it as it liesKen Cox
3 +1the/-
Rachel Fell
3"the Corporation" "the Nations" "the States" ...
moken


Discussion entries: 9





  

Answers


11 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
"the Corporation" "the Nations" "the States" ...


Explanation:
Hi Craig,

to answer this question, I find that a definite article is called for when the proper name follows an adejctive-noun structure.

Hence, you can ask yourself a question:

Which States?
Which Corporation?
Which Nations?

In your case, with German acronyms which, I assume English readers will not understand, this "Which?" question cannot be answered and, therefore, I would not use the definite article.

Good luck!

Álvaro :O) :O)

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 19 mins (2007-03-08 12:45:15 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Micheal Swan's "Practical English Usage", under the use of "the" with place names states:

...
Exceptions: place names whose name is (or contains) a common noun like, republic, state, union (e.g. the People's Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the United States).

I cannot find any immediate reference to "proper names", but I'm inclination is to think that this type of rule/exception would also apply.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 20 mins (2007-03-08 12:46:28 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Corrections:
Michael Swan
but I'm inclined to think
:O)

moken
Local time: 16:16
Native speaker of: Spanish
PRO pts in category: 4
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27 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5 peer agreement (net): +1
the
the/-


Explanation:
Hello Craig - I'm afraid, after a quick look, it seems to depend...either or both - sorry!

e.g. see these two sites:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Gesellschaft_für_Techn...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technisches_Hilfswerk

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 3 hrs (2007-03-08 15:34:58 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Nor do I, Craig - it was just a preliminary suggestion...

Rachel Fell
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:16
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 8
Notes to answerer
Asker: Myself I don't treat Wikipedia as a grammar or style guide. It's very useful for finding content and lexis, but I wouldn't trust its grammar.


Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  xxxcmwilliams: but I would say 'the' is used more often, as in the THW website: http://www.thw.bund.de/cln_035/nn_931624/EN/content/about__u...
26 mins
  -> Thank you cm - yes, so it is. I think it's true about not needing a the with acronyms cf. the TUC but e.g. SOGAT
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1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +2
play it as it lies


Explanation:
I don't think there's any general rule, or at least not regarding acronyms versus abbreviations. For instance, you surely wouldn't say (or write) 'we heard the news on the CNN, so we called a spokesperson at the IBM to see what they had to say about it. And of course, the MS had their opinion on the subject as usual.

Some abbrevistions take a definite article (the NYSE and the UN, for instance) and some don't. Generally speaking, I would say that most abbreviated company names do not take a definite article, but of course there are exceptions (such as the BBC).

If I had to suggest a rule, I'd say you can only use a definite article when the last term of the abbreviation can take a definite article in normal usage (BBC, CBC, UN, etc. can thus take definite articles, but IBM, TRW, NEC, BMW, TWA, etc. cannot).

The article is normally used in German, but that doesn't mean it should be used in all cases in English.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 4 hrs (2007-03-08 17:07:09 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Another aspect is that you don't use articles with proper names in English, so you don't use an article with an abbreviation of a company name if you regard it as a proper name, with certain exceptions of course. You don't say 'the International Business Machines' or even 'the International Business Machines company' (which would match the German formulation 'die Firma XXX'), but simply Internatational Business Machines and thus also IBM. Of course you would say 'the IBM organisation', but there 'the' refers to 'organisation'.

Ultimately, IMO this comes down to usage, and to echo David, that's where it makes a difference whether you are a native speaker.

Ken Cox
Local time: 17:16
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 47
Notes to answerer
Asker: Thanks Ken - you've made a really good point with some good examples. I guess we need to take the question to the next level: why do we say "the BBC" but not "the CNN"? It's obviously not a simple grammatical answer, but something like "When does the abbreviation itself become the name - i.e. cease to be an abbreviation?"

Asker: I think we have to declare the KudoZ question closed while the issue is still partially unresolved. I totally agree that it comes down to usage - the problems arise when: a) there isn't enough usage yet, or there's no easy way of assessing the usage b) the client wants the opposite of common usage, and there's no easy "rule" one can quote to convince him otherwise.


Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  kironne
3 hrs

agree  Refugio: I agree with you and Craig. It should be used or not, according to usage, not some general rule. A friend told me that in a translation course they were taught to "always" omit the definite article with abbreviations. This would sound very unnatural to me
5 hrs
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