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Hello!

I would be thankful for some native speaker input with an area of article usage in English that's been causing me some trouble: the use of the definite article with postmodified plural noun phrases. I have been reading a lot on this topic, but when i come across real-life examples outside grammar books I'm often confused about the presence or absence of the definite article. Here is one example:

The historian, unlike the physicist, has to deal with forms of activity in which the will is present.

Now, an often-cited rule states that postmodification in principle renders the noun phrase (singular or plural) specific and definite (as in 'The girls sitting over there are my cousins'). Since the noun 'forms' is (heavily) postmodified in the above example (of activity in which the will is present), why is there no definite article in front of it? My intuitive interpretation here is that despite postmodification, the zero article suggests that the whole phrase is still generic (in the sense 'ALL such forms...'), but I'm not a native speaker and cannot really rely on my intuition.

Had the author written:

The historian, unlike the physicist, has to deal with the forms of activity in which the will is present.

in what way would the interpretation have changed? Would the definite article have suggested that such forms are limited in number and/or well-known and therefore specified and definite? Or is the difference between the examples purely stylistic?

Sorry for the long post... any help is greatly appreciated!
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In what way would the interpretation have changed?-- No change; partly stylistic, perhaps.

The point is that the sentence is linear, and the writer may or may not be thinking of the post-modification (which specifies the noun) before he actually gets to it. If he is thinking of the post-modification before he writes 'forms', then he may well preface that with the definite article, but if he is only thinking of 'forms' and not the restriction to follow, then he may not use 'the'.

In any case, once the sentence is complete, the post-modification does its job, and the 'forms' become specific with or without the article.
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geekatfeetSince the noun 'forms' is (heavily) postmodified in the above example (of activity in which the will is present), why is there no definite article in front of it? My intuitive interpretation here is that despite postmodification, the zero article suggests that the whole phrase is still generic (in the sense 'ALL such forms...')
That would be my interpretation as well, though I suppose it's closer to 'ANY such form'.
geekatfeetHad the author written:The historian, unlike the physicist, has to deal with the forms of activity in which the will is present.in what way would the interpretation have changed?
"the" indicates that the speaker has in mind which forms of activity these are, specifically. He might even be able to give you the whole list of "the forms ...".

Without "the" the intention of "forms ..." is "any form ..."; it does not matter which, nor whether anyone can name them.

"the" is almost always intimately connected with the concept of "which?"
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In this case I suppose both ways amount to the same thing in practical terms.
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If it's any consolation to you, postmodification without "the" has for some time been a puzzle to me as well. Emotion: smile

CJ
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Thanks, Mister Micawber!

I often find structures like that one in reading and I was worried I was missing something. My mother tongue has no article system and I find myself struggling with the specific/generic distinction sometimes.
Hi. Please help. I think the short example sentence denotes things are not exhaustive but only includes some. I think one could have written "She saw some things of value in the market" and meant basically the same.

She saw things of value in the market.

And I think the sentence "She saw the things of value in the market" would have a different meaning (if it isn't incorrect).

Also, please tell me what the difference would be if the definite article were either included and not included in each of the following two example sentences. For me, I think the definite article in each is optional and also both mean basically the same both with and without the definite article "the." Please help. Thank you for your help in advance.

1. What she saw were (the?) things of value.
2. They are (the?) things of value. - Let's say "They" here refers to some objects.
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