I am writing a technical report describing how a machine system works. We call the system BLK-Engine, where BLK is the acronym of a long term. When we describe how it works, should I say: "BLK-Engine moves the piston from left to right" or "the BLK-Engine moves the piston from left to right"?

There are also some descriptions like "When a signal arrives, a BLK-Engine moves". Can I say "When a signal arrives, BLK-Engine moves"?

Update: I think my question can be expressed more precisely as: can we name something as we name a person and use a zero article for it? For example, if I name the engine we developed "BLK-Engine", can we just call it by name instead of adding a "the".

  • It depends on what "BLK-Engine" means. – Hot Licks Apr 3 at 0:36
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    A BLK-Engine is presumably a kind of engine. Would you say when a signal arrives, engine moves? – Peter Shor Apr 3 at 1:01
  • @PeterShor Yes, that is the name of the engine we developed. Your example makes sense. However, I wonder if I can name the engine "BLK-Engine" just like we name a person. As we do not add "the" before a person, can we do the same thing here? – Harper Apr 3 at 1:29
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    @NigelJ: Sometimes they can. We say "ENIAC was the first general-purpose electronic computer," not "the ENIAC was the first ..." And I don't see how that sentence anthropomorphizes ENIAC. Of course, as DJClayworth says in his answer, we can do this because there was only one ENIAC. – Peter Shor Apr 3 at 15:40
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    I suggest calling the BLK Engine 'BLAKE'. When a signal arrives, BLAKE moves. By giving it a name, one turns it into an entity, – Nigel J Apr 3 at 16:39

Normally zero-article is used only when the noun identifies a single object.

When Jenny arrives, Billy opens the door as soon as possible.

When Russia sends a sends a spyplane to British airspace, Britain intercepts it with fighters.

There is only one Jenny, Billy, Russia and Britain.

In your case BLK-engine identifies a type of engine, not a single engine. You should not use zero article. It's irrelevant whether it's an acronym, it's entirely dependent on what the acronym means. "NATO did this..." is fine because NATO represents a single entity. "NGO did this..." is not and should be "The NGO..." or "An NGO..." because NGO does not define a single entity.

Single entity acronyms take a definite article (and not the zero article) when the definite article is part of the full name. "The British Broadcasting Corporation" is abbreviated to "The BBC", and "The United Nations" is abbreviated to "The UN" when used as a noun. But there are also exceptions which defy analysis.

If the acronym does not represent a single entity, such as in your case, it is acceptable to use either the indefinite or definite article. "The BLK-engine" or "A BLK-engine" would both work. You might want to read this answer about the difference between using zero article and definite article with types. Types of things vs. types of thing

  • BBC and UNCCD are both initialisms representing single entities. Only one of them is used with the definite article. // UNCCD uses the null article (most definite) not the zero (least definite) article. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 3 at 18:20
  • English is weird here. I would contend that BBC takes a definite article because it's full name is "The British Broadcasting Corporation", and the definite article is thus part of the name. But I don't have an explanation for UNCCD, especially when UN takes a definite article. :-) – DJClayworth Apr 3 at 18:26
  • At the FBI, they order KFC quite a lot. According to KFC spokesperson JK Fowling, DC counts for the most nightly orders... – Global Charm Apr 4 at 3:39
  • Excellent examples. FBI and KFC follow the rules I gave, but I don't understand DC. Like I said, English is weird sometimes. – DJClayworth Apr 4 at 20:35

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