A couple (of) …

This is a brief post on using the word “of” after the word “couple. Here’s an example from a web page called “How to Speak With a Convincing New Jersey Accent”. The second paragraph starts this way:

A couple things you need to know before you get started:

Notice that there’s no “of” after couple.

Definition and use of “couple”

Let’s start with the word couple itself. In regular use, couple is a noun, meaning “two of the same type considered together; a pair”. The word is also used specifically to identify two people considered as joined together, such as a married or engaged pair, lovers, or dance partners (e.g., They make a handsome couple.). Couple, like many collective nouns, may take either a singular or a plural verb. Most often, it’s considered a plural (e.g., The couple were traveling to Texas.). But The couple was traveling to Texas. is also acceptable.

Idiomatic use of “couple”

There’s also an idiomatic usage a couple of, meaning “more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few; several” (e.g., It took me a couple of days to get there.). It’s used in all but the most formal speech and writing. And this usage occurs mostly in measurements of time, distance, and when referring to amounts of money (e.g., They walked a couple of miles in silence. Repairs will probably cost a couple of hundred dollars.).

The use of the phrase a couple, without the “of” occurs chiefly in informal speech or representations of speech (e.g., The next gas station is a couple miles from here.). This usage occurs mostly in measurements of quantity (e.g., She bought a couple dozen eggs. It happened a couple years ago. He needed only a couple gallons of gas.).

This seems to be a colloquialism of the New Jersey and New England area, and at least one well-known author regularly uses this structure. Here’s another example with couple meaning “two”:

I only went to the shore a couple times last summer.

But suppose the speaker went there exactly three or four times. Would the sentence look like this?

I went to the shore a trio times. I went to the shore a quartet times.

This looks like gibberish. And all for the sake of a simple preposition (“of”).

There are several ways to completely avoid this idiom.

  1. Insert the word “of” (e.g., I went to the shore a couple of times.).
  2. Better yet, change the word “couple” to something that doesn’t require using “of” (e.g., I only went to the shore twice (or three time, or however many) last summer. I only went to the shore a few times last summer. I only went to the shore several times last summer.).

Another even more informal example occurs when couple is used without a following noun (e.g., It’s clear John’s had a couple too many.). Here the noun “drinks” has been omitted.


It’s one thing to put a local colloquialism into the mouth of a fictional character. It’s quite another thing to have these idioms as part of a writer’s narrative. If a writer chooses to write in the style of a local region, that’s fine—as long as that intention is made clear. However, allowing a local dialect or a local speech pattern to unintentionally creep into a work is likely to make a writer look less than professional.

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