I've recently started working for an organization -- for the sake of argument, let's say it's an institute that studies lacrosse in the state of Utah. I've been told by various people in the senior administration that we must call it "Lacrosse Institute of Utah," never "the Lacrosse Institute of Utah," and to never use the "the" when referring to its acronym, so "I work at LIU" not "I work at the LIU."

This seems in both cases very wrong to me, more so in the spelled-out version than the acronym. My feeling is that we should be looking at the noun that underpins the name -- it's an Institute -- and I'd say in normal English "I work at the Institute" or "I'm going to the Institute," not "I work at Institute" or "I'm going to Institute." This should then apply to the full name.

I could be wrong; I'm not a grammarian. But it seems like the "the" is an essential part of language when talking about the Institute.

If I'm correct, and want to gently push back against the received wisdom that we should be talking about ourselves in a way that's grammatically wrong, what would I cite as a rule of language? What examples would be best to use to convince people who may also not be grammar experts, but highly resistant to correction?

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    Show your colleagues the FBI webpage fbi.gov where you can "Apply for an FBI Job" or "Contact the FBI" or "Discover FBI History". They seem to be happy to say "the FBI" when appropriate without using it all the time.
    – Henry
    Commented May 17 at 20:50
  • You can talk about yourself as you like. But when you say "Talking about *ourselves in a way" that's wrong, you are only following what your employer wants. Also, you might be "Seeing the Queen" or "Seeing Queen Anne," because they are different things. Commented May 17 at 21:46
  • @Henry That is not the point: in "an FBI job", "FBI" is in attributive position, and "the", if used cannot apply to "FBI", whatever the case. ("The FBI job you were talking about is not available until summer.")
    – LPH
    Commented May 17 at 23:19
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    Some of it is arbitrary. Ohio State University made it a marketing point to always refer to their institution as "The Ohio State University." The country currently at war with Russia used to be properly described as "the Ukraine" but it is now preferred usage to call simply "Ukraine."
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 17 at 23:59
  • @Henry When nouns are used as modifiers, they never take articles of their own, as in your "an FBI job" or "FBI History" examples. We wouldn't say "a a government agency job" or "a the government agency job," only "a government agency job."
    – alphabet
    Commented May 18 at 0:33

1 Answer 1


You are entirely right insofar as pure reasoning goes. In a comparison of "he works at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology" and "he works at MIT", there is only one difference, bar the question of the definite article, and that is that the name of the institute becomes an acronym; however, it is still parsed as a proper noun. But the fact is that in the passage from the one to the other, usage suppresses the article. This is the case for all such abbreviations and acronyms (Calthech, NYU, New York Tech,… ). This is even true for compounded names. Whereas, for instance, you say "they are studying at the University of Georgia", when using the compound noun equivalent you say "they are studying at Georgia State University" ("at GSU"). It is just the usage people are used to—very solidly adhered to: the "NYU" ngram research below shows that all occurrences of "the NYU" correspond to an attributive use of "NYU", not an exception (ie not a reversal of usage).

Usage is not really grammar, and grammar is full of exceptions to the rules that copmprise it. So, it is not grammatically wrong, merely a matter of usage. Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind, as you seem to be doing, that it is not coherent from a logical point of view.

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