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From "Palliative Care" by Stephen Miranda:

While the field has become known for its life-saving procedures, neurosurgeons are called just as often to preside over the end of their patient’s lives – work that requires just as much skill as any technical procedure.

Could we add a definite article before work? Would this change the meaning dramatically?

While the field has become known for its life-saving procedures, neurosurgeons are called just as often to preside over the end of their patient’s lives – the work that requires just as much skill as any technical procedure.

After all, the author has described this work, so it's quite definite to the reader: the work "to preside over the end of their patient’s lives".

  • But is it specific work? I don't think so as it could be various actions. – user3169 Jan 16 '16 at 0:44
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    Some answers with good input coming in. Let me chime in that the work would be absolutely not idiomatic here. – GoDucks Jan 16 '16 at 3:01
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The is not appropriate here.

... the author has described this work, so it's quite definite to the reader ...

But the author has not described "this work". Quite the opposite: work is employed to describe something else. The quality work is ascribed to something definite, presiding over the ends of patients' lives, but it is not itself definite.

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Ch.5, 6.1, p.369 points out that the 'identifiability' associated with the definite article

is normally due to the recognition that there is only one relevant entity satisfying the description expressed in the head.

To use the, then, would imply that there is just one sort of work which requires "just as much skill as any technical procedure". But that is not the case. There are many sorts of work like that—for instance, writing Hamlet or painting Guernica, or even writing such a good question on ELL as you have written.

Consider how you would express this as an ordinary predication, with BE instead of a dash. You wouldn't say

Presiding over the ends of patients' lives is the work requiring skill.

You might say

Presiding over the ends of patients' lives is a work requiring skill.

But we don't ordinarily use 'articled' work that way, to speak of effort or endeavour. Both a work and the work usually designate the product or outcome of effort: a work of art, the works of Shakespeare, the work of a few minutes.

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  • Is work a mass noun here? – GoDucks Jan 16 '16 at 2:59
  • Or is it in apposition? – GoDucks Jan 16 '16 at 3:02
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    @GoDucks Both, I think. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 16 '16 at 7:48
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The clause preceding "work" is an example of a type of work which requires the same degree of skill as the technical work of the role.

It's not necessarily the sole, or only, work which requires the same degree of skill. It is simply a type of such work.

It is, therefore, indefinite rather than definite.

Because the work is indefinite, it is not at all acceptable to add a definite article - i.e you may not replace "work" with "the work".

It would, however, be acceptable to replace "work" with "a type of work".

But that latter construct is clumsier, wordier, and does not add to the meaning of the sentence.

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