Shortening is a common type of word-formation in many languages. Crystal (2008) distinguishes two kinds of abbreviation: initialisms and acronyms. Article use in English is variable with both acronyms and initialisms used as proper names (e.g. (the) UKIP, at the UN vs. at MIT). The question is whether variability is largely dependent on the semantics of the underlying full form (i.e. whether this is derived from a proper name or common noun) or whether the two types of abbreviation show different behaviour with respect to variable article use. This paper uses data from CoStEP, a new, word-aligned version of EuroParl, and a data-driven approach to investigate variable article use with abbreviations and their full forms uttered by English native speakers and compares the findings to data from parallel German and Italian corpora. The results show higher article variability in English and a marked preference for and near categorical article use in German and Italian. Furthermore, our evidence confirms that acronyms tend towards the proper name end of the cline, while initialisms behave syntactically more like common nouns.