A couple of things to say

On the Grammar errors that irk you forum, we have a small discussion about couple. (It’s on the third page of the forum.) Some people don’t like couple to appear without of as in “We bought a couple of drinks and sat at a table in the back to talk.” Indeed, the Associated Press Stylebook says that of is necessary, and I insert of after couple at least a couple of times a week.


I just finished reading “When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech for Better and/or Worse” by English professor Ben Yagoda, who has a sensible attitude about many usage questions that make other folks’ blood boil. However, on the question of “a couple hours,” even-tempered Yagoda resorts to all caps to wonder if the people who say such things are too busy to say a little word like of.

Bill Walsh, the copy editor-author, writes in “Lapsing Into a Comma,” though, that when couple is quantifying another quantifier, we drop of, as in “a couple hundred people.” His point is supported in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.

On the other hand, Bryan A. Garner writes in “A Dictionary of Modern American Usage” that dropping of is careless. He says, “Using couple not as an noun but as an adjective is poor usage.” John Bremner’s “Words on Words” tells us to keep of, and Paul Brians’ “Commmon Errors in English Usage” says dropping of is slangy. As for me, I must follow AP style, so I keep sticking in that missing of, tedious as it gets to be.

The other question about couple on the share.triangle.com forum is whether couple means exclusively two. In speech, “a couple of” can mean two or a few. In the paper, we prefer to use “a couple of” for two, but we’re not strict about it. One forum user, bellaparola, cites Merriam-Webster online to support the point that a couple of can mean a few of.

As for whether couple, in the sense of two people, is singular or plural, see this earlier blog posting.

About Grammar errors that irk you forum: I am told that people who post there no longer have to register. I also hear that the share.triangle.com site is cumbersome to some people. I apologize for that. It’s helpful to me to have the forum, and I do check it regularly and post comments or replies when I have something to say. I would like to hear from people who find the forum hard to use as evidence that I can pass along to the technical managers. If you like it, I would like to hear that, too.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.