a couple of - "a few" or "two"?

Hi,
The context to my query:
I was talking with my sister and her fiancé (a BrE native speaker) about the price of Bugatti Veyron. I wasn't sure of the actual price, so I said: Well, it must be a couple of hundred thousand pounds. Then we checked this information against wikipedia, it turned the price was 1.1 million euros (ca 800,000 pounds). My sister (a non-English native speaker living in England for 3 years) responded that that was a big error of mine, as she assumed I had meant specifically two hundred thousands pounds. She and her fiancé maintain that a couple of, if not always, in a great majority of contexts it means two. I have three questions regarding this situation:

1. According to your experience, does a couple of "always" mean two to you? (I would particularly like BrE speakers to answer this question, as such is the context of this situation)
2. If in this situation, you'd been my sister, would you have understood me the same as she did? (I would particularly like BrE speakers to answer this question, as such is the context of this situation)
3. Would you suggest some other expressions which could let avoid ambiguity (except a few)?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I would agree with your sister and her fiancé: "a couple of, if not always, in a great majority of contexts means two."

    "A few" could be two, three, or four, in my opinion. It's much more vague than a couple. "A couple" is the same as "a pair" to me. If you had a pair of dice you would not have eight dice by any stretch of the imagination. You wouldn't even have three.

    You could say "several hundred thousand pounds". That would cover three or more. If you wanted to stretch it you could say that "several hundred thousand" covered all the way up to a million pounds. :)
     
    Last edited:

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    I agree with James, with a small caveat. If "a couple of hundred thousand" turned out to be 300,000, I'd consider that a minor estimation error. But 800,000 would not be in the ballpark.

    Elisabetta
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    On the other hand, if someone says, "I'll just be a couple of minutes," I wouldn't be surprised at all if it turned out to be 5 - or maybe even 10 - minutes.

    I think what "a couple of" means is to some extent dependent on what you are talking about.

    I agree with the others that "a couple of hundred thousand" is definitely not 800,000.
     

    Alexisse

    Member
    French - Standard
    I agree. It seems to me that " a couple" means two or "two or three" (just as the French would say "deux ou trois"). It is definitely less than a few.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Hmm, my use differs from James and Trent. I use a couple of to mean a few (say 2, 3 or maybe even 4). If I wanted to specify two, I'd say two. But I agree with Trent that 8 is not 'a couple of'.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    On the other hand, if someone says, "I'll just be a couple of minutes," I wouldn't be surprised at all if it turned out to be 5 - or maybe even 10 - minutes.
    Yes, but that's to do with politeness, etc. The same person could have said 'I'll just be a minute', and this might also mean 5 or 10 minutes!
     
    Thanks for the replies so far. :)

    Please, mind that I was not aware of this specific number - 800,000 pounds. It just so happens that the car costs this much, but when I was referring to the price, I actually had in mind, like, 300k - 400k or so.
     

    Citoyen

    New Member
    English
    I only use "a couple" when it refers to an actual couple (two people). All the other times I use "a couple" can refer to much more than two.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Interesting, the forum dictionary gives as one the definitions 'a small indefinite number; "he's coming for a couple of days".'

    My UK dictionary sticks to 2. The online compact oxford english dictionary gives other than the standard 2 "informal an indefinite small number".

    I would never use couple for anything other than 2. I use couple meaning 2. Nevertheless; I know that I have sinned.. (I also sometimes mean more than two :cross: :eek: :thumbsdown: :(.) A few days could mean any small integer (2-3).. But then, we are apt to bend our language..... How can a couple not be 2?????

    GF..
     

    KHS

    Senior Member

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Thanks for the replies so far. :)

    Please, mind that I was not aware of this specific number - 800,000 pounds. It just so happens that the car costs this much, but when I was referring to the price, I actually had in mind, like, 300k - 400k or so.
    Getting back to your original question if you said to me that you are trying to sell you car for a couple of hundred thousand pounds I would assume that you would collect a lot less than 200,000. I would start haggling with you way below 200,000 if I had the money.... :) and I was interested anyway...

    I would also point you at this forum link about your use of 300 - 400 k (using k for 1000 could also go horribly wrong..)

    GF..
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top