View Full Version : Short Grammar Question

11-07-2004, 11:07 AM
When beginning a sentence, which is better:

A couple days later...

A couple of days later...

In ordinary talk, it seems people usually say, "Well, a coupla days later..."

mr mistook
11-07-2004, 11:42 AM
Is this a character speaking, or the narrator? If it was an omnicient type narrator, I would probably say either:

"A few days later..."


"Two days later..."

If it's a character speaking then you could write whatever fits - couple, couple of, coupla

11-07-2004, 12:08 PM
"A couple days later." is incorrect grammar. It has to be "A couple OF days later." The "OF" is always necessary after "A couple."

However, like mr mistook said, if it is in dialogue, or first person narration, then write it the way that character would talk. If he/she would use incorrect grammar, then do so.

Or, like mr mistook said, use a different phrase entirely. Personally, i think the suggestion of "two days later" is the best. You want to be as clear as possible while writing, and I still know idiots who argue that "a couple" doesn't necessarily mean "two." So spell it out for your readers and leave no room for misunderstanding. My two cents.


11-07-2004, 03:00 PM
what else could a 'couple' mean other than two? and isn't a 'few' to mean 'three'? i suppose in the loosest vernacular, 'couple' could mean fifty?

someone once asked the proper usage of 'all but,' as in, 'he knew the response he'd get in all but a couple of replies.' well, the actual question was worded in such a cornfuddled way that after having thought about it i've never been able to use it again.

11-07-2004, 03:22 PM
Hi preyer,
I've grown quite fond of you in the short amount of time I've been on this board, which is only a few hours. (I'm new here, not trying to step on anyone's toes, and sincerely mean that, which goes for everyone else as well. A civilized board? Only in a writing forum!)

(I especially like that you and I are the only two people on here at this hour, and we seem to be performing a duet together on the most recent posts.)

You know what "a couple" means. I know what "a couple" means. I'm sure everybody on this board knows what it means.

Not everyone who willread your work knows what it means.

Yes, I do know 'idiots,' who are quite successful in their own right, who don't know what the phrase means by definition. Yes, they will argue that it could easily mean three or four, or anything less than "a handful." I have no idea to this day what "a handful" actually means.

My point is this:
When writing for others, you want to be as clear as possible. Always. Leave no doubt in your intentions. Sometimes, sometimes, it will fit the story to say "a couple" as opposed to saying "two." But usually, use "two."


PS- "a few" should mean 'three,' you are of course correct. But our casual-everyday-speak is butchering the English language, so it's tough to know for sure anymore. Until the Chinese rule the world, I guess that's all we have.

Writing Again
11-07-2004, 04:14 PM
Actually I understand two to mean two and three to mean three.

A couple probably means two, but maybe I'm wrong and it was really one and a half, or maybe closer to two and three quarters. In other words "a couple" unless it applies to two people in a relationship, means two but lacks certainty.

The same with a few. Like saying, "I think it was three, but it could have been less, or even as much as four." Oh, it was five? I guess it was a few more than I thought.

Some probably means less than a half dozen.

These are all wishy washy words that, like passive sentences, should be tossed out of all narrative.

They can, and do, work in dialog because that is the way so many people talk. However remember, wishy washy dialog means a wishy washy character -- The best characters know their own minds; know what they want; and are determined to achieve it.

11-07-2004, 06:24 PM
>>"A couple days later." is incorrect grammar. It has to be "A couple OF days later." The "OF" is always necessary after "A couple."

However, like mr mistook said, if it is in dialogue, or first person narration, then write it the way that character would talk. If he/she would use incorrect grammar, then do so.<<

Yes omitting the "of" is questionable grammar but it's done all the time in modern prose, and is rapidly becoming acceptable in brisk modern prose. A formal writing style would of course preclude it.

mr mistook also gave good advice -- if it's the impersonal omniscient, then the language is more formal, if it's first person narrative, less so.

Also, saying "couple" is now general language for "few", so saying "A couple days later" could easily mean 2, 3, or 4 (with 4 being perhaps the outside range)

11-07-2004, 11:28 PM
Technically, "couple" may be an indeterminate number, but it still means "two" when most people read it. Two is the first thought that jumps into anyone's mind when they hear the word "couple."

When someone says a "couple" of days, it means two to me. I suspect it does to the vast majority of readers out there. One thing a writer should always do is be precise with language. If you mean more than two days, for heaven's sake say so. That's why we have other words and phrases, such as three, four, five, or "in two or three days."

I wouldn't ever omit the "of" in "a couple of days." It is incorrect grammar, and in truth, I don't see it done in modern usage. If I did, I'd put that writer down as someone who needed to go back to school. Grade school. At best, it's illiterate.

"Coupla days" doesn't omit the "of." When someone says "coupla," they've simply condensing two words into one, "couple" and "of." It's pretty much the same thing as saying, "Couple o' days."

James D Macdonald
11-07-2004, 11:34 PM
You can do anything in dialog, provided it reveals character (advances the plot/supports theme).

Imagine one of the speakers here is a Vermont farmer:

"How long have you been here?"

"Couple days."

"How long are you going to stay?"

"Couple more."

One reason the narrator/author's voice might want to avoid saying "a couple of days" is that it gives the impression that the author doesn't know either. You're the tour guide here; the readers rely on you to know what you're doing. If you mean two, say two.

11-08-2004, 01:20 AM
"A few" doesn't mean three. It means an indeterminate small number. One and two are small numbers, but I understand "a few" to mean at least three. The next step up from "a few" is "several," which means "more than two or three, but not many" (American Heritage Dict.).

(The dictionary says "more than two or three" where, logically, it could have said simply "more than three." Maybe the "two or three" reinforces the vagueness built into "several." In reality, academic writers often say "several reasons" when they mean precisely three reasons.)

The exact maximum for "a few" or "several" will depend on what the countable things are and on the rest of the context.

Euan Harvey
11-08-2004, 08:08 AM
"Coupla days" doesn't omit the "of." When someone says "coupla," they've simply condensing two words into one, "couple" and "of." It's pretty much the same thing as saying, "Couple o' days."

'Of' is a function word, and as such is usually unstressed. In unstressed syllables in English, vowels often change to the schwa. With function words, not only does the vowel change to schwa, but the consonant(s) are often deleted as well. In 'coupla', the 'of' has been reduced to just a schwa.

see: international.ouc.bc.ca/p...unit09.pdf (http://international.ouc.bc.ca/pronunciation/eslp025unit09.pdf)

11-08-2004, 12:08 PM
Wow. I was hoping for a couple of hits (geesh, wrote that without meaning to - it's gotten logged in my noggin'), and here I got a whole discussion.

Didn't mean to confound things with the word couple - though it must mean two since a man and a woman are a couple, and anything more is a menage a trois, Mormon, or illegal in Nevada.

I meant the sentence as a first person narrator, and while you're absolutely Strunk-and-White right about being specific (two) or simplifying (few), the line's from a Yankee drolly telling a story, as in, "Well, a couple days later I was farting around the house, and there it was. Right where I'd left it."

Thanks for all the advice. I'll be sure to watch how I use it in the future.

mr mistook
11-08-2004, 01:19 PM
A couple

A few


Hey! Don't forget "UMPTEEN!":D

11-08-2004, 01:45 PM
thanks, d: looks like i've got a fan. you will, of course, buy ten copies of any book i can pawn off on some drunken editor, right? if you do, i'll put your book on my bestseller list, which i'll completely make up and will be defined as 'the bestselling books i and anyone i know who's got a book to sell and a fifty dollar 'activation fee' have written.' that way we can put 'bestseller' on the book cover. hell, all y'all can be bestsellers! bogus credentials for everyone! actually, i found your style much like my own, so i checked your web site out. i was pretty impressed with its lay-out, though i admit to not reading the extended autobiography except in parts.

now, can anyone tell me why a 'pair' of pliers means only one tool?

11-08-2004, 01:56 PM
Same reason that a pair of trousers means only one garment.

11-08-2004, 02:09 PM
i suppose if i asked how many are a few pair of trousers, my computer would shut down? perhaps that's for the best. thanks, reph, it's all clear as mud now, heh heh.

11-08-2004, 03:01 PM
A few pair of trousers are just enough to have several pockets and a number of seams.

aka eraser
11-08-2004, 10:09 PM
Every time I try to understand some of the more esoteric aspects of language use I have to take a coupla aspirin.