Submitted by dominic on October 29, 2004

couple vs couple of

For example: “a couple of things” vs “a couple things”

I know “a couple of things” is grammatically correct, but I also often hear couple used without the “of”, and by educated people.

Now I’m confused. Isn’t “couple things” wrong?


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Dominic, your instincts are correct. "A couple of X" is similar to "a pair of X." "A couple X" is just slurred.

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A COUPLE X is everyday North-American English, but wouldn't generally be acceptable in a formal context. It's hardly used in Britain at all, although I've used it myself a couple times. ;)

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Dave, don't try that at home! :-)
In Roger Waters' The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking we here him saying: "Hello...ya wanna cup coffee? [...] I'm sorry, would you like a cup of coffee?"
I think it's just a matter of how much one has got sleep the night before. Some people don't wanna speak too much so they use the of-free version of "couple of X."

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Speed, I don't think this is entirely correct. The word can be used without the 'of' in a few situatoins.

How many did she have?
She had a couple.

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Your example, Mike, does not deal with the same idea or structure at all. Speed is right.

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"A couple things" is wrong, but the alternative is too antiquated for common use. I refer to "some coupled things". The "things" you see, are "coupled" meaning that the were put/made in couples.

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Why is "couple of X" grammatically correct? What is the logic? And if "of" should be inserted after couple, then why not after "few or "several?" A few of things? A several of things? "A couple of things" sounds pretentious to me -- "of" is an extra word that has no use. I say drop it.

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Use "couple of" if you assume couple to be a noun, such as pair: "a couple of apples" or "a pair of apples." Drop the "of" if you assume "couple" to be an adjective, such as few: "a couple apples" or "a few apples."

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Taken from Mirriam Webster Dictionary:

The adjective use of a couple, without of, has been called nonstandard, but it is not. In both British and American English it is standard before a word (as more or less) indicating degree <a couple more examples of Middle English writing — Charles Barber>. Its use before an ordinary plural noun is an Americanism, common in speech and in writing that is not meant to be formal or elevated <the first couple chapters are pretty good — E. B. White (letter)> <still operated a couple wagons for hire — Garrison Keillor>. It is most frequently used with periods of time <a couple weeks> and numbers <a couple hundred> <a couple dozen>.

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I consider the Mirriam Webster Dictionary a source for USan English which is a type of patois - not authentic English.

For an excellent treatment of the subject see

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Since "couple" is a noun, as already indicated, it is more correct to use it with "of"
before another noun. But if it going to devolve into "a couple" & schwa, (comparable
to "gonna" and "tuh" [to]) better to accept the less correct form.

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What a lot of annoying prescriptivists here. Yuck. Anecdotal explanations of linguistics and language use lead only to perpetuation of outmoded and simply incorrect ways of perceiving and understanding how language works and develops (note that word, quite the opposite of "devolves").

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@ElktoothChain - My idea of descriptivism is that you make your case and support it with examples, not simply insult people and talk down to them. And perhaps say something specifically relevant to the topic.

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