The Quasi-adjective “Couple”
Many English speakers cringe to hear the following construction:
Jack has a couple tickets for the play.
Counting myself among the cringers, I prefer the standard construction:
Jack has a couple of tickets for the play.
I prefer the latter usage because I can’t accept couple as an adjective describing “tickets.” To me the dropped “of” comes across as slovenly speech.
As a noun couple means “a union of two.” It had its origin as a hunting term for a leash for holding two hounds together. In modern usage it often means “a man and woman united by love or marriage.” Well, now it can also mean “a man and man” or “a woman and a woman” etc.
As a verb couple means “to tie or fasten together in pairs,” or “to join or connect in any way.”
The OED offers two main entries for couple, one as noun and one as a verb. The adjectival use is noted under the noun entry:
quasi-adj. a couple more (..), two more (colloq.).
All of the OED examples given for this colloquial use of couple are used with the word more:
Just you hang on for a couple minutes more
a couple more cops to hold them at a decent distance
I wonder if I could dictate a couple more letters
It’s going to be a couple more months..before we decide what to do.
The dropping of the “of” in expressions in which couple is followed by a word other than “more” is described as a “U.S. colloquialism.” The spelling coupla is also documented and given an entry as a U.S. colloquial form of “couple of.” One of the examples is from the writing of English writer Dorothy Sayers:
1934 Nine Tailors III. II. 276 He’d had nothing to eat..for a coupla days.
It seems to me that the spelling coupla has a certain merit. At least it sounds like an adjective, whereas “a couple tickets” just sounds incorrect.
Merriam-Webster Unabridged treats couple as a genuine adjective meaning “two” and gives the examples a couple more oaths and a couple nights ago.
If “couple” in these examples means “two,” I wonder why the article “a” would be necessary: “a two more oaths”; “a two nights ago.”
No amount of carping will alter the fact that the “a couple tickets” construction is here to stay, but you won’t catch me using it.
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Keep learning! Browse the Expressions category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:
- 7 English Grammar Rules You Should Know
- 15 Types of Documents
- Dealing With A Character's Internal Thoughts
Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!