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From a drug description:

(The) blocking of voltage-gated cross-membrane channels is the supposed mechanism of action of the drug.

I used the in this construction, and an editor crossed out the definite article. Granted, the whole sentence is a bit unwieldy, but is "the" out of place here, or can it stay?

I used it because it has the "of-phrase", and it somehow looked like a nice choice to leave "the" there. It seemed to me that the sentence would work either with or without the article.

Maybe with "the" the sentence would indicate some specific blocking of specific channels, and would not work as a generic phrase?

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    The blocking ... is the mechanism ... No. But, "The blocking of .. is believed to be the mechanism..." would be ok. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 28 '16 at 16:35
  • @TRomano - so there's no problem with the definite article there? I understand that the sentence looks non-native, because it is. – CowperKettle Jun 28 '16 at 16:44
  • There is a problem with the definite article with the bare copula "is" (The blocking ... is the mechanism ... is "off"). But I'm not able to put into words just what that problem is. No sleep last night and my mind is slow. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 28 '16 at 16:46
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    But that sentence could be made more wieldy. The drug is thought to act by blocking voltage-gated cross-membrane channels. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 28 '16 at 16:59
  • @TRomano - I know, but when you're a non-native speaker and you translate, you sometimes make unwieldy sentences. – CowperKettle Jun 28 '16 at 17:03
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I would say that you actually should have the The. This could sound crazy, but go with me here.

I don't think blocking is really the subject of the being verb. From a strictly grammatical standpoint, it is nominative and it is the subject. However, you aren't really talking about blocking. What comes after it, I would argue, is as important as the blocking part itself. It's really an inextricable part of the subject. If this were a more inflected language (i.e., one in which word order has more to do with emphasis than grammar), the whole prepositional phrase would be in the attributive position, so that in a very real sense it would be a part of the subject. In Greek, for instance, you would wrap that in an article-gerund sandwich:

article [attributes] referent

and that entire thing would be the subject.

Usually, English doesn't feel the need to express that explicitly. We normally just get it. However, this situation is complicated by the fact that the main subject is a gerund. So, in order to confuse us less, we make the main subject something that we're used to (an article), and let it do two things for us: first, force us to think about the word "blocking" as a noun, and second, wrap the gerund and the prepositional phrase into one big happy subject.

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  • You mean, like The voltage-gated cross-membrane channels blocking? – Alan Carmack Jun 29 '16 at 3:51
  • @AlanCarmack yes, if this were a more inflected language, it would look like that. But in English we have to modify it prepositionally. The subject would be The blocking of voltage-gated cross-membrane channels – Isaiah Taylor Jun 29 '16 at 15:58
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I think you have two options:

The blocking of voltage-gated cross-membrane channels is the supposed mechanism of action of the drug.

or

Blocking voltage-gated cross-membrane channels is the supposed mechanism of action of the drug.

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  • I don't think we need to eliminate of when we eliminate "The.." though it reads better, I agree, without it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 28 '16 at 17:39
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    @TRomano I wasn't ready to make a grammar analysis, but I think only the noun usage needs a prepositional phrase. – user3169 Jun 28 '16 at 17:46

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