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?


2 Answers 2


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?

  • 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, 2011 at 20:14
  • 1
    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, 2011 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).
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 17, 2011 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. Apr 19, 2011 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. Apr 19, 2011 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.

  • 1
    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, 2011 at 19:28
  • 1
    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, 2011 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, 2011 at 20:26
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 2:07
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 2:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.