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What's the difference between freedom and ''the freedom'' here?

  1. The wheelchair gives him the freedom to go out on his own.

It's a specific type of freedom, 'the freedom to go out on your own'.

  1. Tracksuits are designed to give you freedom of movement.

Why does the sentence take no article? It's also a specific kind of freedom like the freedom to vote.

  • 3
    You could say "to give you the freedom to move your arms and legs", but 'freedom of movement' is a standard phrase and is shorter! – Kate Bunting Dec 3 at 15:16
  • freedom is an abstract noun: Freedom is good. Freedom of speech is even better. – Lambie Dec 3 at 19:17
  • There's possibly a distinction between countable and mass nouns - a specific freedom is countable, but freedom of movement isn't. I'm not sure I'm right, and even if so whether that's useful without an easy way to determine which is countable, so this is a comment rather than an answer! – Toby Speight 2 days ago
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This is quite a basic question.

freedom is an abstract noun: Freedom is good. Freedom of speech is even better.

In English, abstract nouns do not take articles:

  • Wealth is a relative concept.
  • Freedom has many tentacles. Freedom of movement was restricted in that year.
  • Love has many splendors.

This includes adding something to the abstract noun with an of:
- Freedom of movement is essential to well being.
- Love of nature is not the same for everyone.

Unless it is qualified, no article is used.

  • The wheelchair gives him the freedom to go out on his own.

freedom is qualified there. It is the specific freedom to go out.

  • Tracksuits are designed to give you freedom of movement.

freedom is being used as an abstract noun.

abstract nouns with and without articles

  • -The knowledge of computer software is very useful nowadays. It's a specific case of knowledge. Why the hell freedom of movement isn't? A person can have freedom of choice but be deprived of freedom of movement because he/she lost hist legs in a war or whatever. Freedom is what we all desire = knowledge is power. Both are general concepts. The freedom of movement = the knowledge of computers. Both are specified abstract ideas. – Through The Wonders Dec 3 at 19:46
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    Knowledge of computer software is very useful nowadays. is how a native speaker would say this. No "the". As I said: freedom of speech, knowledge of wrongdoing, etc. All considered to be abstractions. Do you need more examples? The knowledge of computer software he had was insufficient. [specific]. You need to get on board with this idea of abstraction versus specifically qualifying what is considered an abstract noun/idea. My answer explains this. I really don't know how to be clearer. – Lambie Dec 3 at 19:52
  • The example with software is from the article you posted. I'm totally confused. LingQ isn't being honest? Probably because the article was written by Russians. The freedom of movement that he got after getting a new leg is awesome - is that fine in terms of grammar? – Through The Wonders Dec 3 at 19:58
  • It struck me. I'm probably going to print it out and put it on the damn wall right in front of me. Knowledge of the topic requires totally rewire my Russian brain so that I can see the world the way you do. Thank you, Lambie! – Through The Wonders Dec 3 at 20:17
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    @ThroughTheWonders We aren't supposed to have an extended discussion here. Luck is an abstract noun, that's why. And yes, the increased probabilities etc. is specific. – Lambie Dec 4 at 19:14
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Interestingly, the cited example is one where usage has changed significantly over the last century...

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(It's the same when restricted to AmE or BrE corpus, so it looks like a global phenomenon.)


Personally, I don't think it's particularly meaningful to attach any actual significance to the inclusion of the article, since it seems inconceivable that the likely contexts could have changed so much during this period.

Even though the shift is quite marked, this doesn't imply that native speakers would be likely to consciously recognise the article-less version as "dated" (or "formal", which is how outmoded forms are often perceived). It's just a stylistic choice that's changed over time.

  • This is what I first thought (that the anarthrous usage would be somewhat formal in the first example; I'm not a native speaker, though). – userr2684291 Dec 4 at 10:33
  • I think there is a difference between freedom to and freedom of. The latter is rather restricted in its use, and I believe it is much less likely to take the. – Colin Fine Dec 4 at 17:51
  • @Colin: You're quite right that the preposition makes a difference. But oppressed minorities invariably demand freedom of speech with no article, whereas you'd always be given the freedom of the city or seek the freedom of the open road with an article, so it's not just the preposition that matters. Maybe those ones depend on whether you're talking about the freedom to act/move (do anything) within some specific location, or the freedom to do some specific thing (anywhere). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 5 at 13:48
  • What's your secret? How to master the art of choosing the right article? Is it something that comes from reading? I have no idea what algorithm you use to distinguish between the freedom of the open road and freedom of movement. – Through The Wonders Dec 5 at 19:02
  • 1
    The freedom of the city is a set phrase: I'd find it odd to substitute any other kind of polity for city. I think the freedom of the open road is a different case: I would say that of the open road is an adjunct, not a complement. – Colin Fine Dec 5 at 22:18
2
  1. The speaker/writer believes the question "which freedom?" matters. Here's how it could matter. The subtle subtext in this sentence is that the wheelchair restores 1 freedom--and which freedom is that? it's the freedom "to go out on his own". But other freedoms are not restored, such as the freedom to walk.

Definite articles are sometimes use to subtly express an "X but not anything other than X" in this manner.

  1. The question which freedom of movement is not relevant. There is only one "freedom of movement" and tracking "which freedom of movement" doesn't matter.

It's possible to remove the in the first sentence and still be okay grammatically, and the meaning would follow the logic of point 2 above. However, if the speaker/writer of sentence 1 is someone who gave him the wheelchair and is trying to help him, ultimately he wants to restore all freedoms but can't, hence from his/her point of view "which freedom" is something he/she is tracking.

  • 1) Freedom is what everyone desires 2) After buying a wheelchair, my friend got the freedom of movement back. See how these two are different from my point of view. In 2, I mean one specific type of freedom, not freedom in general and what I can't understand is the reason why ''freedom of movement'' has to be used without the definite article ''the''. – Through The Wonders Dec 3 at 17:29
  • "Specific" when we are talking about articles means "which X is known/matters" not "which X is defined." Can we ask the question "Which freedom of movement" and get a sensible answer? If so, then it's "specific" for the purposes of articles. Simply placing "of X" after a noun doesn't make it specific and doesn't make it require the definite article. – LawrenceC Dec 3 at 17:33
  • This topic is going to drive me crazy. I bought a 185-page book and the whole book is devoted to articles and I still can't get all the subtle cases that exist. So if we consider non-count nouns ''the freedom to work whenever I want'' gives a sensible answer to the question ''which freedom'' so the phrase takes the definite article. But ''freedom of movement'' doesn't and therefore we shouldn't use ''the'' here, right? – Through The Wonders Dec 3 at 17:54
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An unnoticed distinction here is "freedom of" vs. "freedom to." If you have freedom of speech, you have the freedom to speak freely.

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