I've noticed over the years that certain publications use 'al' in front of 'Qaeda' in certain situations, and others do not.

From the little I know, I understand that 'al' is the definite article in Arabic, so it stands to reason that one would use 'al' as we use 'the' in English, but we don't refer to groups with 'the' in front of them very often. Perhaps this is just an ignorance of Arabic on writers' parts, but it might be a rule in English.

So—when should one use 'al' in front of 'Qaeda'?

  • 3
    What do you mean by, “we don’t refer to groups with ’the’ in front of them very often”? The PLO, The NRA, the IRS, the IRA, the EPA. The CIA, the FBI. The People’s Republic of China...
    – Jim
    May 18 '15 at 1:46
  • 4
    On the other hand: UNICEF, NATO, USAID, UNCTAD... The more easily pronounceable the acronym is as a word (i.e. without having to spell out the individual letters), the less likely it seems to me that people are to precede it with 'the'. With regard to Al-Qaeda, it should be noted that it is not an acronym, but an expression meaning "The Base", "The Foundation" or "The Fundament", so there is a good grammatical justification for including the word 'al' as a component of the organization's name in English-language texts.
    – Erik Kowal
    May 18 '15 at 2:08
  • I've never seen an American news source just call them Qaeda … could you explain why you think it's ok to omit it?
    – Catija
    May 18 '15 at 6:10
  • Is this really about English Language and Usage?
    – Tushar Raj
    May 18 '15 at 7:49

"Al Qaeda" is used as the entire name of the group in the United States (and likely other English-speaking countries) and thus "al" should be used all the time when speaking of them. It's like a book with the title "The Lightning Thief" instead of just "Lightning Thief"; if the book were titled the latter, you could talk about the "Lightning Thief" or just "Lightning Thief", but if the book contains "the" in the official title, you have to include it or else you're not saying the full name.

I don't know if al Qaeda considers the "al" to be part of their name or not (and if it isn't, this could be why Arabic writers might not include it even in translated texts because that's what they're used to) but since we're using English, we're going to follow the popular idea that the full title is not just Qaeda but al Qaeda.

  • I asked an Arabic-speaking friend this question, and she indicated the same. Thanks!
    – Jack
    May 29 '15 at 17:12
  • Shoulda probably just done that to begin with :) The only way you'd get a reliable answer to this on an English Usage forum is if the responder happens to know Arabic too.
    – Misha R
    Jun 23 '15 at 7:51

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