How many can be in "a couple of..."?

LV4-26

Senior Member
Hi all,

Expect a silly question :)

I've always taken for granted that "a couple of" couldn't amount to more than four or so.

As the original meaning of a "couple" is a pair, I assumed that it couldn't be much more.
I know that the definition is "a small indefinite number".(WRD)

Now I've just seen a few posts where some foreros wrote such sentences as:
"Here are a couple of reasons". And then there followed 7 or even 10 items.

I find it strange to call "a couple" a list of 10 items. Am I wrong ?

Thks a lot in advance
Jean-Michel
 
  • Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    To me, "a couple" means two. (It can also mean a pair of lovers/spouses - three is a crowd, in my stuffy worldview.)
    "Several" is "three" to another single digit number.
    I'd use "some" beyond that.
     

    Tabac

    Senior Member
    U. S. - English
    LV4-26 said:
    Now I've just seen a few posts where some foreros wrote such sentences as:
    "Here are a couple of reasons". And then there followed 7 or even 10 items.

    I find it strange to call "a couple" a list of 10 items. Am I wrong ?

    Thks a lot in advance
    Jean-Michel
    You are not at all wrong. I think there's simply a lack of thinking in advance in the case you cite. "I have a couple of things to say: x,y. And furthermore I'd like to add z."
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Hello Jean-Michel,

    As a translator, you are properly concerned with precision in language. Most people are a little sloppy, or as Tabac has noted, they begin with one intention, and then other things occur to them.

    Literally a couple is two. I might use it for as many as three or four statements, but never more than that. I don't believe there is a specific limit. It might be better to say, "a few".

    regards,
    Cuchu
     

    te gato

    Senior Member
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    a couple of
    adj : more than one but indefinitely small in number; "a few roses"; "a couple of roses"
    source: Princeton University Dictionary.

    so from this..I would say that it can be used to describe anything from 2 on..
    'a couple of' reasons why..

    1...why argue with Princeton University..
    2...because it can..
    3...it is understandable...
    4...I use it quite often..:D

    tg;)
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    cuchuflete said:
    Literally a couple is two. I might use it for as many as three or four statements, but never more than that. I don't believe there is a specific limit. It might be better to say, "a few".
    Thank you all for your answers.
    The reason why I asked this is that I usually translate "a couple of" into a French expression which means literaly "two or three" and which is as commonly used as "a couple" in English.
    So I just wondered whether I had to revise this or not.
    A couple of you ;) seem to think I'm right. The contexts I have also do, that is when they're explicit enough. I suppose it depends on the speaker. I'm dealing with BE.
     

    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    I would use a couple of with two, a few with 3 or more--so that you are on the safe side of correct.

    By the way--te_gato underwrites the editors of the Princeton University Dictionary so that her definition of a couple of pieces of chocolate is also acceptable in Alberta.

    :rolleyes:
     

    Christhiane

    Senior Member
    English
    I think you'll do just fine with translating it to 'a couple' as so many think of it as meaning two, maybe three to four. =)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Salut LV,

    You say you're dealing with BE, so let me give you the first BE reaction in this thread.

    Oxford online gives definitions involving strictly 'two', but also includes "(informal) an indefinite small number"; etymology: Latin copula ... related to copulate -- so I guess there's another argument in favour of 'two'! :rolleyes:

    I think a lot depends on context. Here’s how I use 'couple':
    - If I said "a couple of guys ...", I'd definitely mean only two.
    - Same for “a couple of reasons”.
    - But "Shake it a couple of times" would be up to four or five.
    - When I say "I'll just be a couple of minutes", it can easily be up to ten.
    - And "Let's go out for a couple of beers" contains no implicit numerical limit at all! :D

    W :):)
     

    daviesri

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Wordsmyth said:
    Salut LV,

    You say you're dealing with BE, so let me give you the first BE reaction in this thread.

    Oxford online gives definitions involving strictly 'two', but also includes "(informal) an indefinite small number"; etymology: Latin copula ... related to copulate -- so I guess there's another argument in favour of 'two'! :rolleyes:

    I think a lot depends on context. Here’s how I use 'couple':
    - If I said "a couple of guys ...", I'd definitely mean only two.
    - Same for “a couple of reasons”.
    - But "Shake it a couple of times" would be up to four or five. Then it should be ".... a few times/ several times".
    - When I say "I'll just be a couple of minutes", it can easily be up to ten. After two minutes their time is up. Repeat the above every two minutes, 5 times.
    - And "Let's go out for a couple of beers" contains no implicit numerical limit at all! Never limit the number of beers, 'several' or 'a bunch of' would be better options. :D

    W :):)
    A 'couple' is two. A 'few' or 'several' is more than two.
     

    meetheye

    Senior Member
    Chile, Spanish
    Well, let me tell you that once, a teacher told me in class that "a couple of" in English was understood as literally "two". That sounded very strange to our ears since in my country "un par" could be from 3 to an indefinite number. Yes, it sounds quite odd, I know. This is not something that will appear in some dictionary, it's just a cultural issue.

    Saludos.

    P.d: Wheneve we want to say literally "a couple of" we tend to say, simply, "two" .

    Bye now.
     

    JohninVirginia

    Senior Member
    USA/ English
    A couple of thoughts:

    A. The replies here are accurate.
    2. Most speakers and writers don't pay attention to details.
    c. There is a difference in attention to detail in casual and business or academic usage, and I would err on the side of being more correct when speaking a foreign language.
    John in Virginia USA
     

    daviesri

    Senior Member
    USA English
    JohninVirginia said:
    A couple of thoughts:

    1 A. The replies here are accurate.
    2 2. Most speakers and writers don't pay attention to details.
    3 c. There is a difference in attention to detail in casual and business or academic usage, and I would err on the side of being more correct when speaking a foreign language.
    John in Virginia USA
    Isn't this "A few thoughts:":D
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    daviesri said:
    A 'couple' is two. A 'few' or 'several' is more than two.
    I see you prefer the literal sense of the word (rather than the informal dictionary definition "indefinite small number").

    But then 'a bunch of beers' ?
    daviesri said:
    [...] Never limit the number of beers, 'several' or 'a bunch of' would be better options. :D [...]
    bunch • noun:
    1 a number of things growing or fastened together.
    2 informal a group of people.
    3 informal, chiefly N. Amer., a lot.


    So, if we reject 'informal' dictionary definitions, my beers would be growing or fastened together, which would make them pretty hard to drink :D

    I rest my case ;)

    Actually, to critique my own earlier examples:
    - Shake it a couple of times is approximation (after all, what's a shake?: up-down?, up-down-up?,up-down-up-down?)
    - a couple of minutes is strategic optimism
    - a couple of beers is irony

    Anyway, after my few or several comments, I'm off for a bunch of minutes to browse some other threads :p

    W :):)
     

    daviesri

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Wordsmyth said:
    I see you prefer the literal sense of the word (rather than the informal dictionary definition "indefinite small number").

    But then 'a bunch of beers' ?

    bunch • noun:
    1 a number of things growing or fastened together.
    2 informal a group of people.
    3 informal, chiefly N. Amer., a lot.


    So, if we reject 'informal' dictionary definitions, my beers would be growing or fastened together, which would make them pretty hard to drink :D

    I rest my case ;)
    I am not sure how beer is purchased in the UK now, since it has been awhile since I lived there. Here beer is commonly purchased in a six-pack in which all the beers are fastened together with plastic rings. Like grapes, you pluck one off and enjoy it.:D
     

    JohninVirginia

    Senior Member
    USA/ English
    So the new 6 packs really are a bunch of beers, exactly analagous to a bunch of bananas.

    I thought that "a couple of beers" would be more of a euphemism (i.e., more polite than "a shitload of beers").

    I should know better than to argue with a wordsith, but I thought irony is when the outcome is particularly unexpected given the circumstances, such as the police station being robbed, or the fitness instructor smoking cigarettes.

    John in Virginia
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    daviesri said:
    I am not sure how beer is purchased in the UK now, since it has been awhile since I lived there. Here beer is commonly purchased in a six-pack in which all the beers are fastened together with plastic rings. Like grapes, you pluck one off and enjoy it.:D
    OK, touché, you got me there ;)

    Interesting that, throughout our exchange of posts about beer, I never once had an image of a can :eek:. I was drooling at the thought of a pint (=1.2 US pints), or maybe a couple or several, of draught (draft) beer, pulled from the barrel (without added CO2 gas) by a friendly barmaid in a pub.

    ... which is a very common way of purchasing beer in the UK :)

    But OK, six-packs do exist in UK supermarkets ... and in France, so maybe now I'll go get a bunch of beers ;)

    W :):)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    JohninVirginia said:
    [...]
    I thought that "a couple of beers" would be more of a euphemism (i.e., more polite than "a shitload of beers").

    I should know better than to argue with a wordsith, but I thought irony is when the outcome is particularly unexpected given the circumstances, such as the police station being robbed, or the fitness instructor smoking cigarettes.

    John in Virginia
    Hi John in Varying Places,

    Wordsith, he here ... and c'mon, take credit for your pun. Can't believe it was accidental! ;)

    So, irony:

    As you say, "incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs" (WR). So if I said "a couple of beers" you might expect me to mean a couple of beers (i.e. literally two), and then what actually occurs is that I drink a shitload of beers, so there's an incongruity.

    Or "the expression of meaning through the use of language which normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous effect." (Oxford, 1 of two meanings). Well, a shitload isn't quite the opposite of two, but it's quite a way away from it!

    Anyway, maybe irony, maybe a euphemism, or to play safe let's just say it's a trope ;)

    ... said he, sliding off to the Dark Side

    W :):)
     

    daviesri

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Wordsmyth said:
    OK, touché, you got me there ;)

    Interesting that, throughout our exchange of posts about beer, I never once had an image of a can :eek:. I was drooling at the thought of a pint (=1.2 US pints), or maybe a couple or several, of draught (draft) beer, pulled from the barrel (without added CO2 gas) by a friendly barmaid in a pub.

    ... which is a very common way of purchasing beer in the UK :)
    Ahhhh, the pub and real beer. That is what I truly miss about not living in the UK. Where a beer is truly a beer and not just carbonated flavoured water.:(
     

    JohninVirginia

    Senior Member
    USA/ English
    daviesri said:
    Ahhhh, the pub and real beer. That is what I truly miss about not living in the UK. Where a beer is truly a beer and not just carbonated flavoured water.:(
    Flavoured? They flavour it?
    (That's news to me!)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    daviesri said:
    Ahhhh, the pub and real beer. That is what I truly miss about not living in the UK. Where a beer is truly a beer and not just carbonated flavoured water.:(
    JohninVirginia said:
    Flavoured? They flavour it?
    (That's news to me!)
    Hey guys, what's happened to the micro-breweries in the States? My opinion of beer over there was much as you've expressed it :( , until the outbreak of 'microbrews' some years ago -- many of which (more than a couple*) were excellent :) .

    * I slipped that in so that this post isn't really off-topic. :p

    W :):)
     

    JohninVirginia

    Senior Member
    USA/ English
    >>JohninVirginia:
    I should know better than to argue with a wordsith, but I thought irony is when the outcome is particularly unexpected given the circumstances, such as the police station being robbed, or the fitness instructor smoking cigarettes.
    Wordsmyth:
    So, irony: As you say, "incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs" (WR). So if I said "a couple of beers" you might expect me to mean a couple of beers (i.e. literally two), and then what actually occurs is that I drink a shitload of beers, so there's an incongruity.
    Or "the expression of meaning through the use of language which normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous effect." (Oxford, 1 of two meanings). Well, a shitload isn't quite the opposite of two, but it's quite a way away from it!<<

    So I WAS right.
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    I SHOULD have known better than to argue with a wordsmith! LOL
     
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