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Which form of "difficulty" should I opt for in the following sentence:

They have immense difficulties easily accessing the texts.

or

They have immense difficulty easily accessing the texts.

I am inclined to say "difficulty," but I am editing someone else's work and they had originally put "difficulties." Am I wrong, or is he?

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Well, did "they" have only one difficulty, or more than one? On the other hand, I prefer "It was difficult for them to easily access the texts." –  user730 Dec 23 '10 at 7:39
    
Probably multiple difficulties... which is why I pose the question. –  Rosey28 Dec 23 '10 at 7:45
    
For multiple difficulties, both forms are correct. It is a matter of preference. –  Mitch Schwartz Dec 23 '10 at 7:52
2  
Also, the word "easily" could be seen as redundant here. –  Mitch Schwartz Dec 23 '10 at 8:07
1  
Combining immense and easily in one sentence like this is awkard - if I have immense difficulties easily accessing the texts, does that imply I have medium difficulties accessing the texts in a semi-convoluted manner? What about accessing the texts the hard way - do I have no difficulties then? –  Marthaª Dec 23 '10 at 8:15

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Both forms are correct; the difficulties form is a bit more specific. “They had immense difficulties” evokes explicit obstacles they encountered. “They had immense difficulty” connotes just that they found the task very difficult.

Good: Most immigrants have great difficulty finding healthcare.

More specific: Most immigrants have great difficulties finding healthcare. (There are many things which cause them difficulty.

Questionable: *Most immigrants have great difficulties reading government documents. (Unless something else is explicitly under discussion, one would expect that there’s just one main difficulty involved here: language.)

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A problem with this sentence is that the noun difficulties, which already takes the adjective immense, makes the adverb easily redundant.

It would be better to either say that it was immensely difficult or that it was not easy. Some options may be these:

They were unable to access the texts easily.

They found it immensely difficult to access the texts.

They had immense difficulties accessing the texts.

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