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In a sentence like the one in the example, do you say both couple or both couples if you are referring to two people in a relationship separately?

Ex: Both couple work at the same bank or Both couples work at the same bank

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Couple is a collective noun. It takes a singular form and refers to two people.

So, one couple comprises two people and two couples comprise four people.

In a sentence, the subject-verb agreement follows the singularity or plurality of the word couple itself—not the people who compose it.

So, there are two ways of expressing your example sentence:

  1. Both couples work at the same bank.
  2. Each couple works at the same bank.

Update: Based on a comment, the sentence may also be talking about one of the individuals within a couple.

Let's say that Bob and Mary form a couple, and Emma and Mike form another couple. Bob and Emma both work at the same bank.

If we know their names:

Bob and Emma work at the same bank.

Otherwise, we could say:

  1. Each couple has a member who works at the same bank.
  2. Both couples have a member who works at the same bank.
  3. From among each couple, there is an individual who works at the bank.

If you are talking about families in which couples work:

  1. In our family, both of us work.
  2. Between us, we both work.
  3. All of these families have fully working couples.
  4. Within these family-based couples, both members have a job.

With a single couple, you can't refer to both couples working because there is only one couple. You have to refer to individuals or members, or use some other term that singles out one of the people in the couple from the other. (If you know the couple, use a name.)

  1. Bob and Mary both work at the same bank.
  2. Both members of this couple work at the same bank.

Of course, if you are actually referring to a single couple as a collective whole, then the other answer gave a common way of doing so (although there may be a difference between common US and UK English when it comes to subject-verb agreement with collective nouns):

That couple works at the bank.

There is no need to say at the same bank because the couple as a whole is treated as a single unit; each member does the same thing when referenced in this way.

  • Jason, I get this much. My question is not about what verb form but more the quantity, if this makes sense. – user191110 Jul 16 '18 at 18:23
  • @user191110 No, not exactly. Between the two example sentences you gave, your second one would be the one I'd used. (I mentioned it as my first example.) Are you perhaps talking about an individual from one couple and an individual from a different couple? – Jason Bassford Jul 16 '18 at 18:44
  • No. I'm actually talking about two people in a relationship taken separately. And the fuller sentence I'm trying to clarify is: "In families where (both?) couple work ..." – user191110 Jul 16 '18 at 19:01
  • @user191110 I have updated my answer based on your comment. – Jason Bassford Jul 16 '18 at 19:14
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    @RobbieGoodwin Okay, good. (I did give that at the end of my answer.) My problem was never understanding the exact scenario that was being described. I had originally interpreted it differently than you—and, honestly, I'm still not sure what the intended interpretation is. But I think I've covered all possibilities . . . ;) – Jason Bassford Jul 29 '18 at 0:27
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Neither. It would be "The couple...".

You can't use couple to refer to two people in a relationship separately, the noun couple originates from the Latin word 'copula' which means "link" or "tie" that connects 2 things together. So you can't say both couples (unless you mean 2 different couples), but both persons if you want to specify 2 separate individuals that work at a bank but aren't necessarily connected to each other:

Both persons work at the same bank

It is not:

*Both person work at the same bank

However, you can say:

A couple work at the same bank

or

The couple work at the same bank

  • That’s not entirely correct. “Couple” is a collective noun—if you use it with a singular verb, then “couple” becomes singular. If you use “couple” with a plural verb, then “couple” becomes plural. For instance, one can say, “The married couple is coming over for dinner.” In this sentence, the speaker views the couple as one entity and therefore uses the singular verb is. However, one can also say, “The married couple are coming over for dinner.” In that sentence, the two people that make up the couple are referred to individually. – user305707 Jul 15 '18 at 20:41
  • But you are right in saying that “Both couple work at the same bank...” is incorrect. – user305707 Jul 15 '18 at 20:43
  • Yes, but whether an is/are is used after collective nouns is a personal choice. British English and American English have different opinions on the matter, in the sense that there is no 'unanimous' rule or 'correct' usage. – aesking Jul 15 '18 at 20:43
  • You said: “You can’t use “couple” to refer to two people in a relationship separately...” – user305707 Jul 15 '18 at 20:44
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    @NathanM. This answer comes closest to addressing my difficulty. My sentence, which I didn't want to reproduce exactly cos it comes from an unpublished work, reads more like this: "In families where both couple work 9-5 jobs . . ." I don't actually have a problem with the verb to use cos I understand that a couple is two and couples can be anywhere from 2, 4, etc, and so the subject-verb agreement will depend on the number of couples as units. – user191110 Jul 16 '18 at 18:37

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