I used to think that if an abbreviation can be pronounced as a regular word, it goes without an article ('NATO', as an example). Similarly, if it's just a sequence of unpronounceable letters, it goes with an article ('the EU', 'the IMF', etc.). However, I noticed that 'GDP' usually does not follow this rule. So what the rule is? Please don't tell me there's no rule. If it's really so, then tell me what the convention is. I don't fancy googling every abbreviation.

EDIT: I replaced 'acronym' with 'abbreviation'. It seems I picked the wrong term.

  • A sequence of unpronounceable letters is not an acronym. Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 16:37
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    True, but that is an error that may native speakers also make.
    – James K
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 16:43
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    Traditionally the term "acronym" wasn't restricted to pronounceable sequences. Both definitions of "acronym" date back to the 1940s, but at some point, someone decided that only one definition was correct and then went about insisting on everyone else falling into line.
    – rjpond
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 17:46

2 Answers 2


It depends on how the acronym is acting in the sentence.

When NATO is the name of the organization, the org is named "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization" and so the article is already part of the acronym. "Is France a member of NATO?"

If NATO is being used as a modifier, then it may or may not accept an article. "The NATO Charter lists the rules."

Though you could avoid this with "The Charter of NATO..." Or possibly "NATO's Charter requires..." Both of these move it back to being a noun.


Firstly, you should think if you would use an article if you expanded the acronym initialism:

People can trade with the European Union. -> Can trade with the EU

European Union leaders met on Tuesday -> EU leader met on Tuesday.

Here you can see that you sometimes use "the" with EU, and sometimes not. It depends on how you are using the phrase "European Union"


The gross domestic product of Germany rose last year -> The GDP of Germany rose last year.

France's gross domestic product fell -> France's GDP fell.

Again sometimes you need "the" and sometimes not.

Now with "NATO", it has become a word and a name, and like many other names it doesn't use "the"

Japan is not a member of NATO. (not "the Nato")

This is because it is pronounced as a single word.

  • Try googling 'GDP' in Google News. It's not accompanied by 'the' usually. 'The GDP of German' — no, you won't find this (especially without 'y') Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 17:15
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    @SergeyZolotarev Perhaps "the GDP" is often avoided by rephrasing, but I think the rule still holds for GDP. "The GDP of Germany rose" might sound slightly awkward, but to me "GDP of Germany rose" sounds quite wrong.
    – aschepler
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 17:35
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    I'm not convinced "pronounced as a single word" is helpful. "NASDAQ" is usually pronounced as a word rather than six letters, and has most of the qualities of a proper noun, but still takes "the" wherever a non-proper noun would.
    – aschepler
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 17:43
  • "The GDP of Germany" (thank you, the missing "y" was a typo") is quite normal Indeed the first link on my google is "What is the GDP of Germany" You see "GDP of Germany" in "headlinese".
    – James K
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 19:59
  • @aschepler I think NASDAQ is different because nobody would actually use the full National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation in a sentence, just like almost nobody ever uses North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They have eclipsed their full forms and are on the verge of becoming words in their own right, just like RADAR once did.
    – StephenS
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 21:30

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