How many in a couple?

July 8, 2008 at 8:38 pm 3 comments

When I was in my primary and secondary years, I had the impression that a couple was synonymous with a few. Later I came to realise from my discussion with native speakers of English that it can also mean two. This can prove problematic in certain cases.

I remember watching a talk show where the host introduced a couple of books written by his guest. Most Malaysians would assume that it meant a few but as the interview unfolded, it was clear that only 2 books were discussed.

My stand is that if it is more than two, it’s better to say a few. This is because when couple was first coined, it meant two. Therefore, when we refer to a man and a woman who are meant for each other, they are a couple. However that becomes a bit difficult to define if the man is polygamous. What would you call a man with three wives? A couple? A few?


Entry filed under: Lang Kong (So they say). Tags: .

A working Sponge The Elusive Air

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shangli  |  July 9, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    same here, i always thought a couple of = a few, why? From dictionaries, the first definition is always ‘two people/things’ then followed by ‘an indefinitely small number’ (informal/spoken). But where/how initially did we get the idea ‘a couple of’ means ‘a few’ only to realise later on that it actually means ‘two’, really baffles me…

  • 2. suituapui  |  July 10, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I always thought “a couple” = two…but now I hear it used loosely to mean “a few”. Would you consider that as an abuse of the language? There’s also “each other” and “one another” which are used interchangeably now.

  • 3. chris  |  November 17, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I always have known a couple to mean a small amount or few. If i wanted to say two i would not use the work couple instead just two

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