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5.1.3.Definite articles with acronyms and abbreviations

Definite articles are not normally construed with proper nouns, unless they are part of the name as such (cf. Section, (83)), which especially holds for names of companies and organizations. Some examples of this sort are given in (126). The difference between (126c) and (126d) serves the purpose of showing that the presence of the definite article is largely idiosyncratic. In many cases, proper nouns of this sort have acronyms. The primed examples show that the definite article is generally retained when an acronym is used instead of the full name. Example (126d') further shows that the acronyms of names that do not contain an article also lack an article.

Example 126
a. de Nederlandse Spoorwegen
  the  Dutch  Railways
a'. de NS
b. de Verenigde Staten (van Amerika)
  the  United  States  of America
b'. de VS
c. de Centrumdemocraten
  the Center Democrats (political party)
c'. de CD
d. (?de) Democraten ’66
  Democrats ʼ66 (political party)
d'. (*de) D66

      In (126), we selected plural names for the reason that the full nouns and the acronyms may differ in the number agreement they trigger on the finite verb of a clause. Consider first the examples in (127). Here we see that abbreviations of a formal plural can, and typically do, externally behave like a singular. Example (127b) shows that de NS can trigger either singular of plural agreement on the finite verb, where the former is the more colloquial form and the latter the more formal form. Note that the company itself prefers to use the acronym without the article, in which case plural agreement is no longer possible: a typical example taken from the website of NS is given in (127c).

Example 127
a. De Nederlandse Spoorwegen maken weer winst.
  the Dutch Railwayspl  makepl  again  profit
  'Dutch Railways are turning a profit again.'
b. De NS maakt/maken weer winst.
  the NS  makes/make  again  profit
c. NS staat/*staan in de Top 3 van de best op tijd rijdende spoorwegbedrijven in Europa.
  NS stands/stand  in the top 3  of the best  on time  driving railway.companies  in Europe
  'NS is in the top 3 of most punctual railway companies in Europe.'

With the acronym of de Verenigde Staten in (128b) singular and plural agreement alternate as well, unlike in American English, where the noun phrase the US normally triggers singular agreement (Carole Boster, p.c.). Article drop is not possible in (128b), which suggests that article drop is confined to companies, but establishing this requires more research. For completeness’ sake, note that although it is sometimes claimed that the full form de Verenigde Staten in (128a) always triggers plural agreement (onzetaal.nl/advies/vs.php), it is easy to find examples on the internet in which it functions as a singular noun phrase, as is also common in American English.

Example 128
a. De Verenigde Staten hebben/%heeft tegen de resolutie gestemd.
  the United Statespl  have/has  against the resolution  voted
  'The United States voted against the resolution.'
b. De VS heeft/hebben tegen de resolutie gestemd.
  the US  has/have  against  the resolution  voted

      While (127) and (128) are evidence that abbreviations of formal plurals can outwardly behave like plurals, the examples in (129) show that this is not always the case. Though both CD and D66 correspond to formal plurals (both featuring the plural noun Democraten as their head), plural agreement with de CD is very awkward. Plural agreement with D66 is entirely out of the question. The latter seems to be linked to the fact that D66 obligatorily occurs without an article; cf. the fact that article-less NS in (127c) also triggers singular agreement.

Example 129
a. De Centrumdemocraten *heeft/hebben tegen gestemd.
  the Center Democrats   has/have  against  voted
a'. De CD heeft/??hebben tegen gestemd.
b. Democraten '66 heeft/??hebben tegen gestemd.
  Democrats '66  has/have  against  voted
b'. D66 heeft/*hebben tegen gestemd.

      Acronyms exhibit special behavior not only with respect to number agreement, but also with respect to gender. The examples in (130) are representative cases of acronyms whose full form is headed by the non-neuter singular onderzoekschool. We see, however, that the acronym LOT is preferably construed with the neuter article het. One may speculate that this is due to interference from the fact that the lexical item lot'fate/lottery ticket' is also a neuter noun, but this cannot be the whole story given that the neuter article is also used with the acronym FNV in (130b') for which no corresponding lexical item can be found.

Example 130
a. De/*Het Landelijke Onderzoekschool Taalkunde zetelt in Utrecht.
  the  National Research-school Linguistics  is.seated  in Utrecht
  'The National Graduate School in Linguistics has its seat in Utrecht.'
a'. Het/%De LOT zetelt in Utrecht.
  the[-neuter]/[+neuter]  LOT  is.seated  in Utrecht
b. de/*het Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging
  the  Federation  Dutch  trade.union
b'. de/het FNV

      In many cases, acronyms start to behave like proper nouns themselves in the sense that the public is no longer familiar with the original name the acronym stands for. A good example is the ASN bank: the acronym ASN stands for Algemene Spaarbank Nederland (literally: General Savings Bank of the Netherlands) but apparently the acronym has become so opaque that the company felt it necessary to add the noun bank to the acronym. It should be clear by now that once acronyms get to this stage they may start to exhibit all kinds of unexpected behavior.