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Is the usage of the word couple (as in, "I want to ask a couple of questions...") to mean 'some' or 'few' correct (as in, interpreting given example to mean "I want to ask a few questions")?

As a follow-up on the example, when someone says "I want to ask a couple of questions...", does the usage of 'couple' necessarily mean the two questions have to be related to each other, or can couple just mean 'two' in that context?

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I'm asking because I came across someone who use 'couple' in the sense of 'handful' today and...it just seems like incorrect usage to me. –  Ankur Banerjee Apr 17 '11 at 14:18
    
    
That's American usage, I believe. –  pavium Jun 1 '11 at 2:02
    

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Yes. It's used all the time to mean an undefined small quantity.

Come here, I want to ask you a couple of questions.

This is likely to be more than two questions.

I've had a couple of ideas I'd like to go over with you.

Translation: Get ready to be bored.

But if you use it regarding specific items, it probably means just two:

Can you bring me back a couple of Cokes from the machine?

But don't be surprised if the person replies:

Sure. How many do you want?

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I would say that in England I expect "couple" to mean a collection of indeterminate size, except in relation to persons referred to as "a couple". By contrast "a couple of them" would be an indeterminate, but probably small group of persons. –  Marcin Apr 17 '11 at 20:14
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I would generally expect it to mean 2, maybe 3--honestly if it were more than two you should use few, however it can be a lower bound--I can think of two questions but I may have follow-ons, that would be a good usage. –  Bill K Apr 17 '11 at 20:17
    
And if you're in the in the south of USA, don't be surprised if the person replies "Sure. What brand?" (or so I've heard). –  Andrew Grimm Apr 17 '11 at 23:33
    
Exactly parallel, I think. Here in Tennessee, if someone asked me for "a couple of Cokes" I would fetch two Coca Colas without asking for clarification. But in other contexts, the meaning of Coke, like couple, can be less specific. –  Jason Orendorff Apr 19 '11 at 14:07
    
As far as I know, even in rural Georgia Coke is only generic in contexts where there is little danger of confusion, like I need to get to the store and get some Cokes. But there are plenty of places I haven’t been. –  Jason Orendorff Apr 19 '11 at 14:13

Couple originally referred to a pairing (as in two things that go together) and later developed into simply meaning two but has since widened its meaning to a few or a handful.

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What was interesting to me was when a friend recently insisted that she uses a few to mean two and a couple to mean three or more. –  snumpy Apr 17 '11 at 19:28
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No, few is more than couple, couple would be 2 and maybe more (uncertain), but if it's 3 or more it would be few. 5 or more would be handfull. –  Bill K Apr 17 '11 at 20:21
    
@Bill K I was not suggesting my friend is right (see my answer above) but rather pointing out something I found humorous. –  snumpy Apr 17 '11 at 20:26
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I find that in my country of residence (NZ), a couple 99% of the time means just two, no more. Very iritating. –  teylyn Apr 18 '11 at 2:07
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And when we hear about 'the happy couple', there's really not much doubt it means only two. I would describe the use of couple to mean more than two as maddeningly imprecise. –  pavium Jun 1 '11 at 2:10

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