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Which of the following is better:

  • How many resources (such as data and computation) are necessary to complete the process?
  • How much resources (such as data and computation) are necessary to complete the process?

I know that resources is typically a countable noun. However, the parenthetical phrase specifies an uncountable noun (data).

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    I wouldn't use either of how many or how much in your context. Just say What resources are needed? Aug 23, 2022 at 12:39
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    Even when the plural form is encountered, I'd say the usage is rarely count. "We need three resources" for instance flatlines in a Google 4-gram search, and doesn't do too well in a raw Google search (lowest return, page 3, 22 hits). // However, plural non-count usages don't sit well with 'much'. *'How much clothes ...?' Aug 23, 2022 at 18:56
  • Part of the oddity here is that you would use compute or computational resources, not computation resources. In some cloud contexts cores is common. Also, data is ambiguous. Storage or bandwidth are used. (Normally memory is included because it's a common price driver.) So the real question may be "How many resources (such as storage and compute) are necessary to complete the process?" A more straight-forward request would be "Required compute, storage, memory and bandwidth".
    – jimm101
    Aug 23, 2022 at 19:17

4 Answers 4

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Much cannot be used with a plural noun. And note that when it modifies the subject, how much would require a singular verb (is), not plural as you have written.

We use much with singular uncountable nouns and many with plural nouns (Cambridge)

Resources is a

plural noun: resources

a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively. (OxfordL)

It is true, however, that it tends to be 'uncountable in meaning' if one can say that. Normally, people find a way to express this in other ways. For example, normally amount would be used with uncountable nouns, but I see that amount of resources is very common:

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So you might get round your problem by saying:

What amount of resources (such as data and computation) is necessary to complete the process?

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  • I think it's not idiomatic to include amount of in your suggested alternative. Just What resources are... is all you need here. Aug 23, 2022 at 12:41
  • @FumbleFingers Well, the OP wants to ask about quantity, not a simple specification of the resources.
    – fev
    Aug 23, 2022 at 13:15
  • In that case I'd go for What level of resources... as the best of a bad bunch, if it was felt necessary to include "quantification" in the question. But I don't really see the need for that anyway. Aug 23, 2022 at 14:57
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I think the real problem here is that the business sense of the word 'resources' has gone beyond being a buzzword and is settling into people's everyday usage. At the same time its meaning is broadening and diluting, so that to some people 'resources' means processor cores, whereas to other people 'resources' means employees.

I deliberately used countable examples there. Evidently, though, the dilution of meaning has gone so far that some people find it strange that 'resources' should be countable. That's unfortunate. They are countable. You cannot refer to an amount of resources, or refer to resources as "it". Therefore, saying "How much resources" is plain incorrect.

The solution is to back-track and avoid using 'resources' as a hold-all term for whatever it is you mean. Enumerate what you mean more specifically, and say "How much memory and computational power".

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There are two different thoughts that one could be trying to express here.

Suppose that the kinds of resources that are under consideration are A, B, and C. Somebody could be wondering whether all three of them are necessary, or only A and B, or only B and C, or only B, etc. The first formulation ('how many') would express that well. The person who is asking that question would not be concerned with the quantity of each of them that would be needed. The 'how many' question could be asked even if A, B, and C don't come in different quantities at all.

On the other hand, if A, B, and C come in different quantities, somebody may want to know, not only which of them will be needed, but also how much of A (fifty tons, ten gigabytes), how much of B, etc. will be needed. The 'how much' question expresses that, although it would be better to formulate it as 'how much of the resources is necessary'. Note that that the questions of the 'how much' sort are meaningful only if the resources in question are something that comes in different quantities.

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How many resources (such as data and computation) are necessary to complete the process?

How many refers to a number. It therefore follows that it cannot be used with a noun that is functioning as an uncountable noun:

Q: "How many cars are there in the street?"

A: "52."

How much refers to a quantity or amount:

Q: "How much trouble is there in the street?"

A: "A lot."

How many resources (such as data and computation) are necessary to complete the process?

Resources cannot be uncountable as it is plural.

Many refers to resources.

What resources refers to is irrelevant: you are modifying resources not its components.

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