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Elasticity is a measure of how much buyers and sellers respond to changes in market conditions.

The sentence above is from page 95, Principles of Microeconomics Fifth Canadian Edition.

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The sentence is not perfectly well written ie. it's using a grammer rule for much/many to make its meaning clear. It's only obvious that 'much' refers to elasticity because it's the singular noun. 'Many' would refer to buyers and sellers because they're plural. The rule is straightforward, despite the overanalysis (and incorrect reasoning) in some of the answers below: 'much' refers to a singular noun, 'many' refers to a plural noun. – Pete855217 Jul 20 '14 at 6:20
up vote 21 down vote accepted

Because it doesn't mean "the number of buyers and sellers" (countable), it means "the degree to which they respond" (uncountable).

"How many" would be grammatical, but with a different meaning.

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Because it doesn't relate to "buyers and sellers", but it relates to "respond to changes."

So imagine it like this:

Elasticity is a measure of how much they respond to changes in market conditions.

Therefore it's not a measure of how many people do respond, but instead it is a measure of how people (their count isn't important here) react to changes in market conditions.

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Because how much doesn't modify either of the plural nouns it precedes.

Rather, it modifies the entire embedded question (or headless relative; the distinction neutralizes here) noun clause

how much buyers and sellers respond to changes in market conditions,

which is, of course, not plural (it's hardly singular, either, but clauses and phrases that act as nouns are officially declared to be singular by the Academy).

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"how much" in the sense of "to what extent" did all the buyer and sellers react - not how many of the individuals reacted

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The meaning expressed by *how much( is here very different than the one that how many would express.

Here, how much represents the strength of the reaction, NOT the number of people who react to the changes in market conditions. The answer here will be in term of: strongly, not that strongly, etc. if the approach is qualitative.

If how many was used the focus would be on counting the numer of buyers and sellers, and the answer would be: 2 mio, 300, etc.

If one buyer, responds strongly the result will still be strong probably.

Not the same.

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To me, the fundamental issue is of differing types of quantifiability.

Some qualities are quantifiable via itemized counting ("how many people are waiting", "how many cheeseburgers he ate", etc).

Others are quantifiable but, practically speaking, not itemizable/countable: "how much snow fell", "how hot the water is", etc.

Others convey quantity, but not in a strictly measurable way: "how much he loves her", "how much buyers and sellers respond", etc.

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