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Intuitively I think of tangent space at a point as the set of all points lying in the tangent plane passing throug that point.

Here is the definition of Zariski tangent space

Let X be an algebraic variety. and $p \in X$. The tangent space of $X$ at point $p$ is defined as $$T_pX= Der_k(O_{X,p}.k)$$

How does the above definition match with my intuition? Or more specifically, can someone give a one-one correspondence between $T_pX$ and the set of all points lying in the tangent plane passing through $p$?

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This definition (or something very close) is fairly standard in differential geometry. It might be worth opening up a differential geometry book and seeing why this definition is equivalent to more intuitive definitions of the tangent space of a smooth manifold. –  Brett Frankel Feb 11 '13 at 15:55
    
You can also write down a formal definition for your "intuitive" tangent space and then prove that the vector spaces you get are isomorphic. It's not too hard, though there is a trick involved. –  Zhen Lin Feb 11 '13 at 16:00
    
What will be the formal definition of my intuitive tangent space? –  Mohan Feb 11 '13 at 16:11
    
I believe it's in Shafarevich, but I don't know for sure. Just take $X$ to be an affine variety embedded in affine space and write down the obvious thing associated with your mental picture. –  Zhen Lin Feb 11 '13 at 18:31

2 Answers 2

The tangent space at $p$ is the space of all directions in which you can take a directional derivative at $p$. Whatever "directional derivative" means, it should only depend on the germ at $p$, so it's a function on $\mathcal{O}_{X, p}$. And it should be linear and obey the Leibniz rule, so it's a derivation. These conditions turn out to be enough to give a notion of tangent space that agrees with intuition (e.g. you can compute the Zariski tangent space to a variety cut out by various polynomials and it will be the thing you think it is).

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First use GAGA to pass to complex manifolds. Then use base change to pass to a real manifold....Now, given any smooth embedding (use the Whitney embedding theorem) of your manifold in Euclidean space, assume that the tangent surface at p exists and does everything you want it to. The one-to-one correspondence you ask for, which was not given by the other answer, is:

Given a vector starting at p and lying in the tangent surface, consider the geodesic line lying in your manifold, passing through p, and whose tangent vector in the usual Euclidean sense is the given vector. Problem: to define a derivation of the space of germs of functions on your manifold at p. Hint: First extend your function to the entire ambient space, smoothly. Then use the ordinary directional derivative.
Remark: this is not canonical, but you didn't ask for a canonical isomorphism.

Second remark: you didn't specify whether the field has characteristic zero or not...I assume it does. Third remark: what you wrote down isn't actually the definition of the Zariski tangent space. The definition of the Zariski tangent space is $m_p/m_p^2$ where $m_p$ is the ideal of all algebraic functions which vanish at p.

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There is no such thing as "the" definition of the Zariski tangent space. Any definition provably equivalent to any other can be used. –  Qiaochu Yuan Feb 27 '13 at 4:58

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