Submitted by amazed on April 26, 2007

A couple...

I’ve just come from a thread debating the relative correctness of “all of a sudden” vs “all the sudden” and would like to submit another evolving phrase that annoys me:

Use of “a couple... ” in lieu of “a couple of...”. “A couple drinks”, or whatever. While I find the question of “all of a sudden” vs “all of the” merely interesting, with this one I am inclined to assume laziness.

Any thoughts?

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This drives me insane!

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Technically, it's probably incorrect, but I would say it qualifies as an idiom. People say "coupla..." all the time, instead of "couple of...". Is is really that much worse? Little words get elided away all the time. Nearly everyone says "wudja do last night?" instead of "what did you do last night?". There are a thousand other little things like this in English (and every other language).

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I'm not talking about casual conversation; I'm talking about formal writing. I don't much care how people speak when they chat with their buds.

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"A couple ____" doesn't seem to be something terribly prevalent in "formal" writing... how fomal can it really sound?
"A couple theories contend..." That probably wouldn't pan out too well, at least in formal academic writing. I'm also inclined to say "a couple ____" is indicative of laziness on the speaker's (or possible writer's) part. Couple = 2. A couple of people. 2 people. I think when people are just chatting, they could use "a couple ___" not only to mean two, but to mean more than one and less than five maybe. This is all speculation, of course. I'm just trying to think it out.

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According to my favourite book, Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, "a couple" without "of" is standard.

The first couple chapters are pretty good - EB White 1959

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Well then, I stand corrected!
and remain... amazed.

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Just found this site a few weeks ago and have used it and I LIKE it!! So here's one I need help with. Is it "could have" or "could of"? Can anyone explain which is the proper way, if there is a proper way? Thanks

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Robin, it's "could have", not "could of". Occasionally people will misspell it because, in speaking, "could have" is often contracted as "could've", which sounds like "could of", but, of course, isn't.

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I love how when other languages do this sort of thing, we call it dialects, but when English does it, we call it a mistake.

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One more question about "a couple" in a different context. Couple by definition means two. However my whole life I have been misled into thinking couple is the same thing as many. This has caused many problems...

Anyone care to elaborate? Is it okay to use "a couple" in the context of many?

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From the American Heritage Dictionary (for the Anglophiles out there, every other English dictionary will similarly confirm this)

1. Two items of the same kind; a pair.

4. Informal - A few; several: a couple of days.

So it is completely correct to use couple to mean a small indeterminate number, not necessarily two. I guess I wouldn't use it to mean many, per se, but it's ok to use it to mean more than two in an informal way.

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