Grammar Usage

Does this couple need therapy?

Q: I got Origins of the Specious for Christmas from my older daughter, and I am enjoying it. I dog-eared page 35 so I wouldn’t lose the place where you write “a couple” instead of “a couple of.” This usage is getting more and more common, but I still don’t like it. Dang!

A: You’re right (good eye!)—on page 35, we write, “That’s been the rule for the last couple hundred years….”

We do this again on page 180: “…the word ‘decimate’ executed a couple more turns in the road.”

As we’ve written elsewhere on the blog, the informal use of “couple” before a plural, without the usual “of” afterward, is common in casual writing and in speech.

The deletion is especially common when “couple” is followed by a numerical term, like “hundred,” or a time element, like “weeks.”

In Origins of the Specious, our book about language myths, we aimed for an informal voice, so we feel this usage is justified here.

In fact, “couple,” with its air of inexactitude, is rather informal itself.

We did a search, and we find that except for those two passages, we stick to “couple of” throughout the book.

We write “couple of months (p. 25), “couple of seafaring myths” (p. 68), “couple of years” (pp. 99, 133, 188), “couple of decades” (pp. 150, 176), “couple of misconceptions” (p. 164), and “couple of lifetimes” (p. 193).

And for rhythmic reasons, we also even used “couple of hundred years” in a couple of spots (pp. 53, 165).

Yes, we added “of” here to the numerical phrase (“couple hundred years”) that caught your eye.

By the way, “couple” isn’t followed by “of” in terms of comparison, like “couple more” or “couple fewer.” 

Check out our books about the English language