I've heard plural nouns sometimes need to be preceded by the definite article "the," and at some other times, no article is needed (the "zero article" case). I have a question on how to decide when to use which case.
First, let me mention that in some cases, the decision as to whether or not the definite article is needed is very simple to me. For example, it is 100% clear to me that the definite article is needed in the following example:
Example 1: I liked the books you sent me last month.
Similarly, it is 100% clear to me that the definite article is not needed in the following example:
Example 2: Responsible citizens should respect the law.
Despite this knowledge, I badly get stuck in some cases. Given the same sentence, one day, it seems to me like the definite article is needed, and on a different day, I come up with the opposite verdict (zero article). Here is one example:
Example 3: Does the quality of the(?) items selected along the way matter?
I would appreciate it if you could kindly help me with the following questions:
- Do you think that the definite article "the" is needed before "items" in the above sentence?
- Can you let me know the thought process you go through to answer Question 1?
- Finally, I wonder if it is as easy for you to resolve Example 3 as Examples 1 and 2, or do you also find it more challenging to resolve Example 3? I am trying to get a sense of how the world of native speakers looks like when it comes to identifying zero article cases.