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As much as and as may as can be used for comparisons. Looking at other questions with as much as or as many as, none seem to talk about countability. I've noticed that

as much as
The water contained in Lake Mille Lacs is as much as several lakes combined.
He's paid as much as his boss.

is used to compare uncountable things, where as

as many as
The number of schools in Minneapolis are as many as there are in Oakland.
He makes as many dollars as his boss.

is used for countable things.

But it's not always the case

Elephants can be as much as 10 feet tall if not more.

feet are countable.

The grains of sand on all the beaches are not as many as stars in the sky.

grains of sand are generally considered uncountable.

All the sand on all the beaches are not as much as all the stars in the sky.

also works, but is less specific by not mentioning "grains".

Is there a general rule for using either as much as or as many as?
Maybe because of the exceptions it's not dependent on countability?

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    This is actually a pretty savvy question! I want to be able to dismiss it with "no, it's just about countability" but you've brought up some good examples. I would point out that in "Elephants can be as much as..." we're not actually counting feet, like you're counting dollars in "As many dollars as...", you're counting something about elephants...but I'm having trouble explaining exactly what! Also, grains of sand are totally countable. Sand is uncountable (so much sand!) but when you add a quantifier like grains you make the noun phrase countable (so many grains of sand!)
    – stangdon
    Aug 25, 2016 at 21:28
  • @stangdon +1 for both you and Peter. Do I misunderstand or is this comment the skeleton of a useful answer? I would like to have this Q&A to point to when this Q is raised again, as it certainly will be. Aug 25, 2016 at 21:48
  • @P.E.Dant - I'm trying to grope my way to an answer, but I don't feel like I have a solid one yet. If I find a good explanation for the elephants example, I'll post an answer.
    – stangdon
    Aug 25, 2016 at 22:32
  • @stangdon Exactly. Why the hell wouldn't we say as many as ten feet tall? Yet almost every speaker will naturally make with the much. Carry on groping. I'm not even at the groping stage yet; just began fumbling. Aug 25, 2016 at 22:53
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    I have found one reference: "Though the number is a count noun, as much as means the upper limit of the amount of a non-count noun such as weight, distance, money, price, size, etc." I realize that explanation may itself be confusing because "weight" and "distance" and so forth are actually count nouns themselves (weights, distances, etc.) but we use them like non-count nouns (his weight is 150 pounds, not his weights are 150 pounds).
    – stangdon
    Aug 26, 2016 at 0:17

2 Answers 2

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In my understanding using 'as much' or 'as many as' is all about "discreteness". In the case of the elephant, you are measuring its height (size), which is not discrete. The same reasoning applies for the sand grains; the number of sand grains (or stars) have a discrete number (even if we are unable to count them). The weight or volume of sand is not a discrete number like the number of grains are.

@stangdon, weight, distance, and volume are measurable but not countable (not discrete!). I am not sure, but this is my understanding of the "much" and "many" usage.

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As many as means a number that is equal to another number.(used with countable nouns). With not it means not equal.

The grains of sand on all the beaches are not as many as stars in the sky. Grains of sand are countable.

As much as means an amount that is equal to another amount ( used with uncountable nouns).

All the sand on all the beaches is not as much as all the stars in the sky. Sand is uncountable.

As many as 50, 100 (emphatic ) is used to say how surprisingly large a number is.

As many as 10, 000 people are thought to have fled the area (a number of people).

As much as 50, 100(emphatic ) is used to say how surprisingly large an amount is. (Longman Exam Dictionary). With money, distance, size, time, weight(they are all uncountable ) we use as much as.

Some machines cost as much as £ 20,000.(money)

Elephants can be as much as 10 feet tall if not more. (height).

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