Is the noun used "differently" in "worth the effort" vs. "worth the efforts" ?

According to Merriam-Webster, effort has the following 5 definitions -

  1. conscious exertion of power : hard work
  2. a serious attempt : TRY
  3. something produced by exertion or trying
  4. effective force as distinguished from the possible resistance called into action by such a force
  5. the total work done to achieve a particular end

it appears that other than definition 1 (and maybe also 5), which should be uncountable, definitions 2-4 (or 2-5) are countable nouns.

If the interpretation of the 5 definitions is correct, does the term "worth the effort" use the "uncountable" definition (e.g. worth the hard work) while "worth the efforts" uses the "countable" definition (e.g. worth the attempts) ?

  • 1
    It depends. What's the context? Jun 18, 2019 at 17:16
  • @JasonBassford I feel like the last part of the question covers that a little bit. Would you explain in more detail what could be added to the question to improve it?
    – ColleenV
    Jun 18, 2019 at 17:23
  • @ColleenV Every time I tried, I either failed or got something I didn't like. In the end, I thought it wasn't worth the efforts. While not entirely natural sounding, it's not wrong either—and, in that particular context, despite it sounding a bit odd, it could actually make more sense than the singular version. (Even if I would normally rephrase it to emphasize the plurality in a different way.) You can't just look at the three words on their own without knowing the sentence or situation they apply to. So, is there a particular context for this phrase? Jun 18, 2019 at 17:42
  • @JasonBassford That sounds like an interesting example for an answer, not something we need to know to answer this question properly.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 18, 2019 at 17:47

1 Answer 1


By default, "effort" refers to the uncountable abstract definition of the noun (i.e. "work"), rather than the countable concrete definition (i.e. "attempt"). For example:

That software took a lot of effort to produce

She put a lot of effort into her masterpiece.

"Not worth the effort" normally relies on the same interpretation, that the value of some product was not equal to the value of the work required to create it. It refers to the collective, abstract idea of some amount of labor:

She tried many ways to make her business a success, but the result so far hasn't been worth the effort.

The plural "efforts" is much less common, but can be used to describe a group of related labors, either at multiple times or by multiple (groups of) people.

Thanks to their combined efforts, the charity fundraiser was a huge success.

For this reason, if you want to use the plural in this expression, you should clearly explain that there was more than one "effort" involved:

The spectacular charity fundraiser was the result of long hours of hard work by many talented people but, unfortunately, it wasn't worth all of their efforts, as it only raised a fraction of what was needed.

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