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I'm confused about what "to be verb" to use when you create a list of items.

I mean when you talk about 3 or 4 items. What "to be verb" goes after "how much"? I read that "how much" always goes with uncountable nouns. So I would use "is" instead of "are"?

For example:

  • How much is a dictionary, a stapler, and three pairs of scissors?
  • How much are a dictionary, a stapler, and three pairs of scissors?

Does it have to do with proximity of the countable noun or uncountable noun?

  • Hi kan, I don't understand the relevance of the grammar topic about lists to verbs to-be. Can you please explain the link? Thanks. – Lawrence Aug 14 '18 at 12:42
  • Also, all your nouns are countable. – Andrew Leach Aug 14 '18 at 12:46
  • I mean when you talk about 3 or 4 items. What "to be verb"goes after how much? I read that how much always goes with uncountable nouns. So I would use" is instead of are?" Unless you're talking about the price of the items? – kan dave Aug 14 '18 at 12:51
  • I hope that makes sense. – kan dave Aug 14 '18 at 13:00
  • I've tried to highlight what seems to be the core of your question. I've deleted the part about grammar topic because it doesn't seem to fit, and I've left out the part in your comment about 'price' because the expressions don't seem to be talking about anything except price. Please feel free to edit further or to roll back the changes. I've tried to highlight the intent of your question, but if I've misread that intent, you're especially encouraged to edit the question to make it ask what you wanted to ask. – Lawrence Aug 14 '18 at 13:34
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You ask: Proximity. I assume you mean proximity determines conjugation, and I would say stylistically yes, grammatically no. And some would say, stylistically, no, too.

That unit of speech is called a phrase, specifically a noun phrase, or a complex noun phrase. The verb "to be" is, in English, conjugated to the subject of the sentence. So if that phrase falls in the predicate, then is depends on the subject.

Example :)

We are angry, tired, and violent.

Compare:

He is angry, tired, and violent.

In your example, you could argue that you are omitting "the (total) price (of)," so the fully-formed noun phrase could be:

"How much is the total price of a dictionary, a stapler, and three pairs of scissors?

Colloquially, one would replace this jumble of words with the pronoun it, i.e.:

How much is it?

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"How much" followed by be always refers to price. If much is followed by a noun (which must be an uncountable noun) it refers to quantity.

  • How much is a bed?
    refers to the price of a bed.

  • How much mashed potato [would you like]?
    refers to the quantity of mash.

  • How much is mashed potato?
    refers to the unit price of mash.

Which form of be you use is governed by how many items there are in your list.

  • How much is a bed?
    one item: use the singular is.

  • How much are two beds?
    more than one item: use the plural are.

  • How much are a stapler, two pens and a llama?
    more than one item: use the plural are. This question could be asking about the price of the three things listed, or the total price; the correct interpretation will depend on the context.

With countable items and asking about quantity (or rather, number), you can't use much, and have to use many:

  • How many beds are there?
    beds are countable; use many
  • *How much beds are there?
    beds are countable, so you can't use much
  • How much mashed potato would you like?
    mashed potato is uncountable, so much refers to quantity
  • How many scoops of mashed potato would you like?
    scoops are countable, so use many to count them

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