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I have seen the following sentence:

He claims that thinking is merely the manipulation of formal symbols.

However, in my opinion, the definite article before the word "manipulation should be removed because we are not talking about a specific "manipulation"; Google also has the following sentence example in the definition of "manipulation":

The format allows fast picture manipulation.

I wonder whether I am right in the case of omitting the definite article in the first example or not.

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  • "the + noun + of + noun" is a very common structure. "The" is correct here because the "of + noun" phrase defines the first noun
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 6:21

1 Answer 1

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The definite article is justified in phrases like this because we are talking about a specific kind of manipulation: the of part specifies what kind. The definite article is justified, but not required, in phrases like this. It is justified in this particular sentence, but the definite article is not always justified in "[the] noun1 of noun2" phrases: there are exceptions.

It will generally be OK in sentences where noun1 defines an action (for example words ending in -tion) and noun2 defines what is acted upon.

The definite article can also used when noun1 is an abstract noun and noun2 is something having that quality "the courage of heroes" and "the spirit of Christmas". It does not, however, work in all situations like this, for example "the peace of mind".

This NGram graph shows that, for manipulation, it's OK with or without the definite article. As you can see from the graph, fashions change with time, and at the moment, without the definite article appears to be ahead, but I wouldn't read much into that, because generally shorter ngrams occur more frequently.

If you look instead at "by the abuse of power", the version with the definite article is ahead.

Looking at your second sentence, the definite article would be justified if, rather than the compound noun "picture manipulation", you used "manipulation of pictures":

The format allows [the] fast manipulation of pictures.

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  • Thanks for your answer. I cannot understand your justification in the first paragraph. If I am not mistaken, we use the definite article when we refer to specific instances of nouns, regardless of the point that nouns are in the "of" structure, unless the nouns are specified uniquely, right? In that example we do not mean a specific "manipulation". In my opinion, using the definite article in such a situation is ungrammatical, even though it may be commonplace. Am I wrong?
    – Later
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 14:37
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    @Later: I think you're just wrong. Consider, for example, A stiff neck can be eased by [the] manipulation [of the shoulders]. If of the shoulders isn't present, we can't include the article either (because we're not referring to any specific kind of manipulation). But if those extra three words are present it's optional whether to include a definite article before manipulation. That's to say - the article is "justified" (but not "required") since we are talking about a specific kind of manipulation. (I'm not quite sure how that works with the shoulders though! :) Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 15:34
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks for your response. According to your explanation, I could conclude that one can always use the definite article before the first noun in any "of-phrase" [noun] + of + [noun], because I could argue that the second noun specifies the kind of the first one.
    – Later
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 9:06
  • You certainly can't always apply that rule. You'll rarely see an article before spirits of camphor, for example. Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 14:38
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    @FumbleFingers I started a new thread for this controversial issue.
    – Later
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 10:44

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