Posted by: episystechpubs | July 12, 2016

Editor’s Corner: A Couple (of)

This is one of those topics I find interesting because there seems to be an old rule behind it, but it’s not a rule I learned. The question is whether you have to use the word “of” after “a couple.” For example, is it “I’d like a couple of margaritas, please,” or can you just say, “I’d like a couple margaritas”?

I’ve been corrected for forgetting the “of” in some of my Editor’s Corners (though the bartenders never seem to mind my grammar). Then, one of you asked the same question about “of.” Basically, everything I could find about using “a couple of” said that you need the “of.” Here is some additional information I found.

The Chicago Manual of Style says that “(u)sing couple as an adjective is poor phrasing. Add of {we watched a couple of movies}.”

I also read that you can only use “a couple” if you are referring to two people, such as “The couple looked through Bed, Bath, and Beyond for potential wedding gifts.”

Looking a little deeper, I found this from our favorite dictionary, Merriam-Webster, about using the phrase “a couple of” plus the word “more”:

…(M)any people consider a couple of + more ungrammatical, so it shouldn’t be used in formal or academic writing.

In formal and informal English, a couple of can be used with a plural noun, or with an adjective + plural noun, as in these examples:

· a couple of times (= approximately two times)

· a couple of years ago (= approximately two years ago)

· a couple of new chairs (= approximately two new chairs)

A couple of can also be used with the numbers dozen, hundred, thousand, million, and billion to mean that there are approximately two times that number, as in:

· a couple of dozen students (= approximately 24 students)

· a couple of hundred years ago (= approximately two hundred years ago)

A couple of cannot be used with other numbers (a couple of fifty people).

Lastly, here is a little bit more about whether “couple” should be considered singular or plural.

From the New York Times blog:

Couple may be either singular or plural. Used in reference to two distinct but associated people, couple should be construed as a plural: The couple were married in 1952. The couple argued constantly; they [not it] even threw punches. When the idea is one entity rather than two people, couple may be treated as a singular: Each couple was asked to give $10; The couple was the richest on the block. In general, couple causes fewer problems when treated as a plural.

Here are a couple of photos from the contest to lighten the rest of your day (from Jamie Roller):

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services


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