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We only use the with general plural nouns when we are referring to a specific set within a general class of people or things. Cambridge Dictionary

Why are the following "stars" referring to a specific set?

  • Everyone is in trouble when he looks at the stars, and under the stars ... link
  • But he will be happy when he looks at the stars and hears in his memory ... link

and these aren't?

  • He looks at the sky, and at stars in particular ... link
  • He looks at stars that could swallow up a thousand of our suns ... link


Another examples:

  • She looks at the reports and approves them ... link
  • When I look at the reports in Die Kerkbode on the events ... link

  • Celia Mather looks at reports which reveal the appallingly low standard of management practices ... link
  • Instead, he looks at reports that are in various stages of preparation or being drafted ... link
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    "Look at the stars" can be similar in meaning to "look at the sky" - we are not speaking of any group of stars (known or being introduced) but generally about the starry sky. – CowperKettle Mar 4 '17 at 17:20
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He looks at the stars

Here, the specific set of stars are all of the ones which are visible to him at that time.

He looks at stars

Here, there is no specific set of stars which he looks at, it implies that he looks at individual stars or small groups of them at random.

He looks at stars in particular...
He looks at stars that ...

Here he looks at specific stars which have certain characteristics as opposed to all of those that he can see.

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