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What is the difference between the following two sentences?

He has been absent for the past few months.

He has been absent for past few months.

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Only the first sentence is grammatical.

Using past and few together sets a very particular and definite time span, so the definite article is obligatory.

There are cases where it's not with other prepositions and adjectives:

in recent months

for a few months

past months had been different

Etc.

However, the combination of for, past and few in your example makes the definite article necessary.

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