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I couldn't find (yet) a solid reference for this rule, but I think it's generally admitted that elision happens in french with words starting with a vowel or a silent "h", like in

L'arbre
L'école
L'hélicoptère

But I'm unsure about how acronyms are supposed to fit in. Sometimes the pronounciation of the acronym makes it sound like it starts with a vowel, like the title example "xml" [iksɛmɛl], in which case the elision would make sense, I guess?

So..... "l'xml" ? or "Le xml" ? (I've heard both forms used, but wondered which one was most common)

3 Answers 3

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Oral elision is the rule when the acronym starts with a vowel, e.g. l'IVG but is very rare nowadays when it starts with a consonant although you are right l'xml can occasionally be heard in relaxed speech. It is also possible with l'html. On the other hand, The elision is never done with la SNCF and rare with le SOS.

Elision before consonants starting with a vowel sound was common until the middle of the 20th century but then started to drop:

enter image description here

I guess correctors would reject l'xml in current printed material except maybe when it belongs to a dialog.

e.g. Antidote:

Élision
L’article s’élide normalement devant une voyelle graphique : l’I.V.G., l’ovni, l’OTAN, l’Afnor. On ne fait pas d’élision devant une consonne graphique, même si son épellation dans un sigle commence phonétiquement par une voyelle : le F.M.I. [leèfèmi] et non *l’F.M.I. [lèfèmi].

Note that this kind of elision is close to a frequently heard one happening before words starting with a consonant like: c'est l'premier instead of the expected c'est le premier.

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  • I also had "L'html" in mind as an alternative example when writing the question. Thanks for the useful precisions. Apr 2 at 13:23
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    @Frank Si, c'est assez courant. Par exemple sur les forums de developpez.net on trouve six occurrences de c'est de l'xml contre une cinquantaine de c'est du xml.
    – jlliagre
    Apr 2 at 14:08
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    @Frank "L'xml" est, entre autres, un raccourci assez courant pour "le fichier xml" (dont il est question). Tu peux m'envoyer l'xml de l'export ? Apr 2 at 15:20
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    Bon ok, message reçu :-)
    – Frank
    Apr 2 at 16:32
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    @Frank Les chiffres sont bien ce que j'ai observé. Ton commentaire semblait dire qu'on utilisait pas souvent xml avec un article défini avant, ou du moins, c'est comme ça que je l'ai compris. 12 %, ça veut de toute façon dire que ce n'est pas si rare, spécialement à l'écrit où les gens ont tendance à se rapprocher de la norme.
    – jlliagre
    Apr 2 at 21:35
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Elision is optional in front of consonent names that begin with a vowel sound (f, h, l, m, n, r, s, x). This applies to letter names as well as acronyms (sigles). So both are correct.

https://dictionnaire.lerobert.com/guide/elision

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  • The "Elision devant un nom de lettre" section seems perfectly relevant. Thanks a lot. Apr 2 at 12:30
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If you're asking specifically about IT acronyms in colloquial use... It's a linguistic wild west. People are so used to bending rules to make English words fit into French sentences, there's not much sense of a 'correct' way to do it. One person may prefer "le XML" and another person may prefer "l'XML" and even alternate between the two without raising eyebrows, while in a non-tech context the same people would instantly detect similar quirks & inconsistencies. The following would be a perfectly normal dialogue between two French software devs:

« Il faut splitter l'XML après le tag.
– OK, j'te prépare le fix et je le push† sur le repo.
— Cool, tu me dis quand t'as commité? »

† pronounced pouche.

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    Agreed. But more generally, the wild west you're talking about is true for every language at any point. Daily usage makes the rules, not the other way around, regardless of what the grand Académie wants. Apr 3 at 8:59
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    "pronounced pouche" Au moins toi tu échappes à "peuche" :'-) Oui, oui, je sais, ce n'est ni français ni anglais ^^ Apr 3 at 9:03

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