Both nouns can be either a count noun or a mass noun. I think individually benefit tends to be used countably more than it appears as a mass noun.

We list the potential benefits (count) of a thing. And sometimes we don't get much benefit (mass) from things. Risk is similar in this regard.

But I feel uncertain about this phrase "weigh benefit(s) against risk(s)"

  1. We need to weigh benefit against risk.
  2. We need to weigh benefits against risks.
  3. We need to weigh benefits against risk.

Intuitively I feel more comfortable with 3 and would go with it, as when we speak of the element of risk, it sometimes cannot be counted. (But we do say "there are risks.") Interestingly, all three appear in print.

They need to weigh benefit against risk (Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus)

A third set of problems arises when the agency seeks to weigh benefits against risks. (Book by Justice Stephen Breyer)

At present it is not possible to weigh benefits against risk for low dose somatic effects. (Congress hearings)

Consistency is a rare commodity when it comes to this. On the risk-benefit ration Wiki page:

Risk–benefit analysis is analysis that seeks to quantify the risk and benefits and hence their ratio.

For research that involves more than minimal risk of harm to the subjects, the investigator must assure that the amount of benefit clearly outweighs the amount of risk.

At this point it does seem this might be a case of personal style. But I am still wondering when benefit and risk are mass nouns, and why should we favor one way over the other?

  • 1
    There are a lot more hits on Google for say "weigh the benefits against the risk/s". // I'm guessing that the count usages are often used intentionally when trials have identified various possible benefits and drawbacks, and the non-count usage for risk used when (possible benefits and) possible drawbacks are as yet conjectural. But I'd rarely choose non-count 'benefit' when the situation clearly references several good consequences. But this is in accordance with Gricean advice, not grammatical demands. Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 9:34
  • It's probably better to restrict terminology to 'mass/non-count' and 'count' usages. There's even one dictionary that defines 'non-count' and 'mass' differently, but that way lies a quagmire. Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 9:41
  • I don't know if you could differentiate "benefit vs risk" when you're comparing size/value (e.g. financial or financial-equivalent gain and loss), and "benefits vs risks" where you have a list of both and you're comparing the two lists: the former quantitative the latter qualitative. If this makes sense, it's certainly not a hard and fast rule just an implication.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 10:08

1 Answer 1


The verb weigh has two meanings and in your examples, it does NOT mean 'to measure heaviness' of something. It means to 'consider' or to 'assess' the benefits versus the risks.

weigh verb (CONSIDER)

to carefully consider, especially by comparing facts or possibilities, in order to make a decision


  • The OED is clear that the senses of weigh meaning "to ponder or assess the value of something" are a metaphorical extension of the idea of weighing on a balance, although the entry is much too long to quote here (the OED gives not 2 but 22 meanings of the verb "weigh", although some are obsolete).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 10:14

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