I know what the dictionary definitions are for few and couple. Not looking for reciting the definition or etymology.

I would like someone to tell me in common usage is it appropriate to call 3 of something a couple or to call 2 of something a few?

This comes from my workplace. I work in a very global setting. In emails and on conference calls often people will say "a few" when they are talking about two things. Or "a couple" when they are talking about three things and sometimes more.

Are there any regional/social/demographic based differences?

For instance my grandma often uses the terms interchangeably and might go back and forth with the two words about the exact same topic. What is the cutoff point for couple and a few?

  • So, you know the literal definitions. You have examples of people stretching the connotations. What is the cutoff? At whatever point people feel like calling someone on their misestimation. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 16:57
  • @DigitalChris - there is a difference between people using a term "wrong" and people accepting the "wrong" usage as being right. With these words my colleagues have understood a couple to be more than 2 while I didn't. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 17:41
  • In that case, the next time you see 3 or 4 of them together, tell them they all make a nice looking couple ;). To your point, there is NOT such a difference between the two. All it takes is a critical mass of people using the term "wrong" and suddenly it becomes "acceptable". See how "butt naked" has nearly replaced "buck naked" for an example. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 17:43
  • That's not an exact duplicate, but several of the answers speak to this question; you may find them useful. I suspect that this question has been asked more than once before. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 23:58

1 Answer 1


If you play it safe and use "couple" to strictly mean 2, then you will never have anyone correct you whereas using it to mean more than 2, you do run that risk, depending on the context and relative pedantry of the recipient. This is what I do, I use "couple" only when I refer to exactly 2, and it has never caused me an issue, though I must admit that I view others usage of the phrase as dubious (it could mean 2 or more).

I use "a few" for more than 2, and especially when I am not sure of the exact figure. I would feel less than comfortable with using it for values in excess of 6 or 7, unless there is some relative context in play. For example, 50 might be "a few" if you are generally or regularly referring to thousands, or millions of a given object or subject (a large survey, census results, or similar).

Just to note, though it is outside the scope of your question, I would place several (strictly meaning 2 or more) in between the two, both in terms of certainty and because it does not have the same relative clause as "a few". It would be odd (to me at least), though technically not incorrect to use several to refer to larger numbers, even with the context outlined in the example above.

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