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Recently I completed an English creative writing exam in which I used the phrase

files and papers manifest, as if by some unholy magic at the tray on his desk.

My teacher stated that my use of manifest was incorrect. She said that it should be used as "manifest themselves". Howeverm I still believe that manifest can be used here as an active verb. Can anyone help explain this to me?

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3 Answers 3

Collins lists the intransitive usage, but only for an extremely restricted set of subjects:

manifest ... v 3. (intr) (of a disembodied spirit) to appear in visible form

WordNet doesn't include this restriction, but the example it gives is informative:

  1. manifest - reveal its presence or make an appearance; "the ghost manifests each year on the same day"

Your teacher's comment is, strictly, incorrect. However, addressing the issue of style, I'd be very careful to use the intransitive version very sparingly with subjects other than spirits and illnesses — but as you're invoking a relevant metaphor here, I can't see a problem.

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It is a creative writing exercise so I say that it is perfectly fine to use "files and papers manifest, as if by some unholy magic..." That said, your teacher seems to have a rigid approach - odd, in view of the course :)

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Collins and American Heritage, for two examples, allow for intransitive usage of manifest:

v.intr. To become manifest; be revealed: Depression can manifest as irritability.

and

'5. intr. (of a disembodied spirit) to appear in visible form

That said, I myself would find it distracting, both because I see the transitive usage far more often.

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