Are there any definitive, or even generally accepted guides which indicate the order of magnitude of:


There is some agreement that "couple" is 2, and a "few" is usually 3-5, with these words I'm seeking a rough indication rather than an exact number range (though that would be good too!)


Lets say:

4 < x < 8
2 < y < 20

And their values are randomized and sampled (a large number) of times so that we get an average and a standard deviation for x and y.

Which is greater, x or y? Of course, there are circumstances when x > y and conversely when y > x. But, if you were told you had to fight your way through a number of zombies (and you didn't enjoy it and thus want to fight as few as possible), and you could choose to deal with x or y of them, x is probably going to be "less".

Similarly, these words are "subjective". But despite their subjectiveness, there is a consensus on approximately how large they are. Can throng mean a trillion? Probably not it is usually used to describe a smaller number. Can throng mean zero? or one? No, it usually means a larger number. Well well. looks like despite the subjectiveness, there is an approximate region in which throng exists.

We aren't going to get an exact, perfectly defined answer here. We may only get:

pack, party  ≈ 30 ± 25
rabble, throng ≈ 100 ± 60
horde, drove ≈ 10,000 ± 9,000
swarm, plague ≈ a million or more

Notice that the symbol used is the wiggly equals sign, which means approximately equals (although that might be subjective, its used with numbers so its in context). This hasn't defined a full order, it grouped them to give partial ordering. These numbers are just as an example. I am expecting someone to reason that e.g. horde and throng should be switched, or that drove is more like somewhere between 200 and 2000 etc.

Even if you are very knowledgeable with english you may not be able to answer, I'm hoping that in the next year or two, someone will emerge who will cite numerous classical texts (for example) and explain that these words originate from there and are approximate equivalents to military groupings, e.g. roman soldiers who saw a legion's worth of barbarians would refer to it as (e.g.) a horde, as although it was the size of a legion it lacked the rank and discipline. Thus, please refrain from angrily stomping on this question as you do not have an answer, someone will. THIS question will become the approximate reference for poetic writers to approximate which word is most suitable to describe the scale of what they are writing of.

There is no exact answer, but that does not mean that we have to surrender with: "oh well if we can't get an exact answer better just put its subjective".

It is subjective, of course. George Boole said "All models are wrong, but some models are useful". This is merely a guide, a rough model. Please, think of the writers trying to decide whether to describe 10,000 orcs as a horde or a rabble; do it for them, if not for me.

  • 1
    12 dozen, 20 score, 144 gross
    – hildred
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 23:07
  • 1
    Have you done any research yourself? I quickly turned up the usual range of sizes for a pack of wolves, for instance. Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 23:18
  • I think this question is hopelessly subjective. Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 0:20
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    @FumbleFingers I don't think that the question is subjective, I think that the (valid) answer here is an objective and definite "It's subjective", which isn't really the same thing. Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 9:03
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    At least 2 independent games are using almost the same system: Few: 1-4 Several: 5-9 Pack: 10-19 Lots: 20-49 Horde: 50-99 Throng: 100-249 Swarm: 250-499 Zounds: 500-999 Legion: 1000 + pocket-play.com/pehelps/spy forums.ubi.com/showthread.php/… Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 19:33

1 Answer 1


Aside from plague, all of the words you listed are poetic when used for counting, and therefore imprecise. Plague when used for counting comes from it's usage in Exodus where it is defined as so many you could not take a step and as far as the eye could see, or almost infinite.

  • 'Almost infinite' is a contradiction in terms (not an oxymoron). Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 23:17
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    when x=x+1 it is infinite. when they can still be counted they are finite. where they border is only poetry.
    – hildred
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 23:20
  • If you insist. 'Almost infinite' is nonsense. Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 23:26
  • Reassuringly for our faith in the literacy/numeracy of Anglophonic writers, there are not in fact an "almost infinite" number of written instances of this "nonsense" collocation. Just "About 366,000". Which might of course actually be 366,001 - the Google Books estimates aren't always that accurate. Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 0:15
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    A "few" and a "couple" are subjective too, (some argue that a couple can mean more than two). But, if your gang of survivors were told (with someone's last breath) that taking one path you would fight a FEW zombies, and the other path you would have to fight a COUPLE of zombies, then rather than sitting on the floor with your arms crossed insisting they are poetically subjective, you'd probably take on the COUPLE. Similarly, if those words were SWARM and RABBLE, the RABBLE would be considered less
    – xxjjnn
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 9:38

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