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"the temperature can vary by as much as forty degrees"

this sentence confused me, following as much as, there is plural word (forty degrees) but it was used with "as much as". Because there is a plural word, isn't it necessary that we use "as many as"?

English is not my mother tongue, excuse my poor English.

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    Native speakers aren't that pedantic. We'd nearly always say some imprecisely-known distance might be as much as two inches (not ...as many as two...), for example. Or for weight, it's always He might weigh as much as two hundred pounds (virtually never many there). – FumbleFingers Apr 3 at 15:50
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When we talk about measurements, we use much. I would guess that this is because we're applying a countable measurement to an uncountable quantity. After all, angle is uncountable, as is distance, area and so on. Thus, you're not really talking about a number of degrees, but a quantity of angle that is represented by the number of degrees.

Telling when this is 'correct' and when it's a common 'error' is difficult, because errors are very common. Where talking about genuinely discrete objects, even abstract ones, it 'ought' to be many rather than much. However, people will use the 'wrong' one a lot, which really calls into question the idea that it's 'wrong'. However, if you're trying to avoid people who "know the rules" from correcting you, it's good to understand them as best as you can.

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‘As much as’ is correct because ‘degrees’ is a measurement, and can involve decimals e.g. 40.5, 40.6 etc. and so it’s a ‘fluid’ concept we’re talking about here—temperature—it doesn’t always come in ‘units’, as it were.

But with ‘students’ for example, it has to be ‘as many as’ because you can’t have half a student, for example. It’s a discrete concept.

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    I'll go along with this, but I don't think "indivisible units" is the complete answer here. I see nothing wrong with a footballer, for example, saying I'm sure we won't lose tomorrow's game, but I doubt we'll beat them by as much as four goals. And there's obviously no meaning to the concept of "fractional goal scores". – FumbleFingers Apr 3 at 17:05
  • Well, to my mind, ‘as much as four goals’ does indeed seem incorrect. It’s akin to saying ‘The motion was contested by as much as 200 students’, which is surely wrong. – Inquisitive Apr 3 at 17:12
  • @ FumbleFingers Good point. Also she wouldn't give me so much as 50p - you can't have decimals there either, but many would be even weirder than in the football example. – Minty Apr 3 at 17:13
  • Well ‘so much as’ is a phrase of ‘so’, and means ‘even’, so in that case ‘so much as’ does indeed work. – Inquisitive Apr 3 at 17:19
  • @Inquisitive: I don't know what you mean by "incorrect". Do you mean that you're a native speaker and it sounds "off" to you, or that you've learned the "formal" rules of English as a foreign language, and it doesn't fit with your understanding of the rules? Many native speakers obviously do use the form we're talking about here, without necessarily thinking they're doing anything they "shouldn't". – FumbleFingers Apr 3 at 17:21
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'Degrees' is the plural form of the countable noun 'degree'.

So we should use 'many'.

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/as%20many%20as):

as many as

idiom

—used to suggest that a number or amount is surprisingly large 

// As many as 60 students competed for the prize.

// They lost by as many as 20 points.

The phrase with 'much' is possible but less preferable according to Google Books Ngram Viewer: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=As+much+as+two%2C+as+many+as+two&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CAs%20much%20as%20two%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cas%20many%20as%20two%3B%2Cc0

  • Points, unlike degrees, are (in most games) indivisible. – Anton Sherwood Apr 7 at 0:19

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