Could anyone clear up which is - grammatically - correct, "the USA" or "USA"?

There are no doubts about unrolled, i.e. full name, so the Unites States [of America] are definitely to be used with "the", but I used to come across with both "the USA" and "USA" when said by native speakers.

My question refers particularly to the ABBREVIATION when used in a simple sentence or speech flow (not when filling in official forms). Example:

We're going to spend our next holiday in ... (the USA OR USA?).

Imagine that one HAS to use the abbreviation (exactly USA, not another name of the nation/country, so NO options here, please) in his/her speech and has to decide upon using the definite article before it to sound absolutely traditionally correct.

  • I saw the answers and those did not address my question as they were speculating about some versions of the country name, what I was piercing in was exactly the abbreviation (which I did my best to emphasize).
    – OlgaG
    Oct 18, 2019 at 7:24

2 Answers 2


This is not a grammatical question, but one of usage.

"In the USA" sounds natural to me, "In USA" not (British English Speaker).

The iWeb corpus has 141 175 instances of "In/to the USA", against 35 083 of "In/to USA"; but many of the latter are "In USA [noun]", where it is used as a modifier, so the relevant number is much smaller.

  • Thank you indeed.
    – OlgaG
    Oct 17, 2019 at 9:55
  • Could you share the link (for the iWeb corpus), please?
    – OlgaG
    Oct 17, 2019 at 9:56
  • english-corpora.org. They have fourteen different corpora of English, and it's free to use (though if you do so often, it starts pestering you to buy a subscription. I have done so, as I think it is worth supporting).
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 17, 2019 at 10:02
  • 1
    Thanks a million! A fantastic resource! Although I don't quite rely on web-statistics as, since printing and publishing got available to almost everyone, the web statistics has got fixing a huge amount of illiterate examples, simultaneously, most of publishing houses (except those specialized in languages, of course) discontinued editing, leaving the text 'purity' to the authors responsibility, nevertheless, the link is a super-tool! HIGHLY PROFESSIONAL! THANK YOU SO MUCH!
    – OlgaG
    Oct 18, 2019 at 7:12
  • 1
    Thanks also for your 'intuitive' comment as a native speaker and grammarian. Such comments are my gold nuggets panned out on the web flood. Really precious.
    – OlgaG
    Oct 18, 2019 at 7:20

As a general rule of thumb, one would normally treat any acronym as the words it substitutes for. However, there are many exceptions to this, which I will go on to detail.

For your specific example though, you would correctly say:

The United States of America

So it would be correct to say:

The USA.

There are lots of other countries whose names contain the definite article, for example, The Bahamas, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom. When "United Kingdom" is abbreviated to "UK" we normally say "the UK". "The" is part of the name of The United States of America.

However, there are plenty of situations where the definite article is not required. For example, in international sports matches, it is common to say "UK versus USA".

Also, not all acronyms are treated this way. For example NASA is technically "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration", yet the abbreviation is never used with the definite article:

A hydrogen leak forced NASA to ground the space shuttle.

Other exceptions that spring to mind are acronyms which require a modified indefinite article than the words they substitute for - for example I would say "a light-emitting diode", but "an LED". And of course, there are acronyms which are have become accepted terms and are no longer written as acronyms, such as "laser".

So there is no hard and fast rule, but in text where grammar is otherwise important I would always include the definite article. In other contexts, it would be a case of consistency and whatever sounds right.

  • The first sentence is simply not true. For example, "laser" is a count noun, but the phrase for which it is an acronym ("light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation" is a non-count noun phrase). Thus they are grammatically different.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 17, 2019 at 10:00
  • @ColinFine I've already edited to be less dogmatic about that - it was my intention to state that was a rule of thumb and then go on to explain the exceptions, which I have. "Laser" is a bit of a wildcard in that it is a term which originated as an acronym but not usually presented as one (ie it is not usually written in CAPS)
    – Astralbee
    Oct 17, 2019 at 10:03

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