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Consider the two following extracts:

[...], which precedes the main verb in the present participle form, working.
The Teacher's Grammar of English with Answers: A Course Book and Reference Guide

If you use the verb dye in present participle form, the e must be retained to avoid confusion: dyeing.
Write in Style: A guide to good English

(Emphasis mine)

Both sources appear to be about good English. One is for teachers; the other is for good writing. One of them uses "the present participle form" (with the), whereas the other uses "present participle form" (without the).

Does the really matter at all in the extracts above? Is one of them more correct (or considered good usage) than the other? Or is it the case that both of them are correct but hint at different things?

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He's in first grade and learning his ABCs.
He's in the first grade and learning his ABCs.

There is no meaningful (i.e. deliberately evoked and clearly perceived) difference. Both are acceptable and grammatical, and both could appear in the same idiolect in the same register.

Stages, forms, tiers, phases, grades, levels etc are perceived differently than spoons, cups, pencils, stones. The former can be projected as an isolated abstraction, or alternatively as belonging to an ordered sequence. When it's the latter, the definite article is used.

But...

OK Many of the passengers up in first class survived.

not OK Many of the passengers up in the first class survived.

OK Many students start thinking of college in junior year.

OK Many students start thinking of college in the junior year.

Unlike "first grade" and "the first grade", with "junior year" and "the junior year" there is a nuanced difference, one of register, the latter being the preference of bureaucrats. Someone who had gone only as far as elementary school could easily use both "in first grade" and "in the first grade", but someone who uses "in the junior year" is either a professional in the education biz or rubs elbows with such folks on a regular basis.

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  • If I understand you correctly, it doesn't matter in both example sentences I quoted whether to use the or not, because the main noun is form, which is, as you suggest, different from spoons, cups, etc., and more like stages, forms, etc. So, it doesn't matter to write either students in third grade or students in the third grade, perhaps? Thanks you in advance for your clarification. – Damkerng T. Jan 2 '15 at 12:59
  • Both are idiomatic AmE: students in third grade | students in the third grade – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 2 '15 at 13:13
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    @TRomano There is a bounty on this question now. I decided to retract my accept vote to make it restart with a clean slate. I hope you understand. (And feel free to go for the bounty!) – Damkerng T. Jan 25 '16 at 10:46
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    Believe it or not, my answer would not be the same here, where the article does make a nuanced difference: books.google.com/ngrams/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 25 '16 at 11:24
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    The reason that present participle form may take an article but infix form cannot is, I think, that present participle is specific (could take the itself) but infix is not. – Colin Fine Jan 25 '16 at 12:39
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+100

The OP asked about "correctness" and "good usage" and "hinting at things", so in my first answer, I was flying at a height where the trees still looked like trees. Here's a second answer flying at bottled oxygen heights.

In the phrase in present participle form the word form is a bare role noun: the verb in its role of present participle; the verb as present participle.

In the phrase in the present participle form, the word form refers to the verb's morphology: the verb with the features that identify it as a present participle.

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