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Page 229 of Garner's fourth edition reads

When couple is used with comparison words such as more, fewer, and too many, the of is omitted <have a couple more shrimp>.

In the predicate of the previous example, shrimp is the direct object. It is modified by the adjective more, which in turn is modified by the adverbial phrase a couple. There is no place in the example for of (neither ✳a couple of more shrimp nor ✳a couple more of shrimp makes sense).

But if the informal sentence structure can be slightly inverted, the of becomes idiomatic again <I’ll have a couple of shrimp more>.

I need a more comprehensive technical explanation of the grammatical point this paragraph is trying to unfold, but avoiding imprecise wordings such as "with comparison words such as more, fewer, and too many, the of is omitted".

Furthermore, the highest Ngrams show dissimilar highest percentages:

a few more {days/of them/people} but a few thousand more or a few thousand dollars more

a couple more of them but a couple more days.

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  • Can you link to the Ngrams you mention in the last sentence? I don’t understand what “a couple of more days“ is being compared to (I would only ever say “a couple more days”)
    – herisson
    Jul 30 '20 at 19:17
  • @herisson pay attention to the position of more shorturl.at/tvHL0
    – GJC
    Jul 30 '20 at 19:23
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    I think part of the problem is that Garner doesn't have any idea of real English grammar. Apparently he thought a couple was an adverb instead of a quantifier. And the distinction being talked about deals with definite and indefinite noun phrases and how their quantifiers interact with other grammatical particles. Jul 30 '20 at 20:46
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    Why do you need this? What problem are you having? What don’t you understand?
    – Xanne
    Jul 30 '20 at 21:07
  • Does a couple here mean some or exactly two? Secondly, currently the Wiktonary entry for a number of reads "1. Several A number of people have commented on it. 2. several of I spoke with a number of them about it. I do not know whether several (of) would be a better approach.
    – GJC
    Jul 31 '20 at 10:26
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The use(s) of of with quantifiers

The usual function of "a couple" can be described by the label of "quantifier".

Other words that can act as quantifiers include numerals, more, and all.

Many quantifiers cannot directly precede a definite noun phrase: we can't say "twenty the children" or "more the children". Since a pronoun like them stands in for a definite noun phrase like the children, I don't think it should be too suprising that we also can't say "twenty them" or "more them". Instead, the quantifier has to be followed by a prepositional phrase headed by of: "twenty of the children, more of the children, twenty of them, more of them". In this situation, the quantifier has a partitive sense: these expressions refer to only part of the children, not all of them.

Less straightforwardly, there are quantifiers like all that can be used directly before the definite article ("all the children") but not directly before a pronoun (*"all them"). Of is mandatory in all of them and optional in all of the children (there are some prescriptivist arguments about it here).

So the reason for the position of of in "a couple more of them" is pretty straightforward and unrelated to the presence of "a couple": *"more them" is ungrammatical.

The "adverbial" function of some quantifiers

Garner isn't alone in calling some uses of quantifiers adverbial, although I'm unsure of the correctness of this analysis. Another quantifier that is often described as being used like an adverb is much in the expression "much more" (also many in "many more").

There are similar examples of quantifiers that can be used "adverbially" in some other Indo-European languages, such as French (tout/toute/toutes) and Spanish (mucho/mucha).

These words display anomalous morphology for either either adverbs or determiners in that they show (different kinds of) partial agreement patterns: much is ungrammatical in English directly before a plural noun (*"much coins") but acceptable for some speakers before fewer followed by a plural noun ("much fewer coins"; alongside a variant "many fewer coins"); adverbial tout agrees in gender but not in number (aside from a purely orthographic convention for the the feminine form, which is pronounced as /tut/ but spelled as either, toute, toutes or tout depending on the context), and adverbial mucho has an optional feminine singular form mucha in some contexts but is invariable mucho in the plural in both genders.

Some analyses use terms like "predeterminer" to describe quantifiers that come before a determiner, but I'm not sure how rigorously defined the concept is.

Dialectal variation

If all English speakers had the same usage in this area, Garner probably wouldn't have felt the need to give the advice that

There is no place in the example for of (neither ✳a couple of more shrimp nor ✳a couple more of shrimp makes sense).

In fact, phrasings like "a couple of more days" do seem to exist, but it is less common than "a couple more days" without of. Here's a Google Ngram chart:

from 1840 to 2000, "a couple more days" is consistently more frequent than "a couple of more days"

To many speakers, including me and apparently Garner, the "a couple of more" construction doesn't sound acceptable.

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  • "Of is mandatory in all of the_m and optional in _all of the children (there are some prescriptivist arguments about it here)." Is this issue related? english.stackexchange.com/questions/65650/…
    – GJC
    Jul 31 '20 at 7:57
  • Currently the Wiktonary entry for a number of reads "1. Several A number of people have commented on it. 2. several of I spoke with a number of them about it. I do not know whether several (of) would be a better approach.
    – GJC
    Jul 31 '20 at 10:25

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