When To Choose A Couple Of Vs. A Couple

A couple of / pair of garden gloves.Here’s a multiple-choice test for you. Pick the right usage:

• Check your email inbox in (a couple) (a couple of) minutes.
• I’m meeting (a couple) (a couple of) people in an hour.
• She’d like to tell him (a couple) (a couple of) things!

According to some grammar sources, either a couple or a couple of is acceptable.

However, those sources also note that a couple without the of is colloquial. It strays from what most consider Standard English.

Couple implies two of something considered together, a pair.

Please get a pair of gardening gloves from the garage.
I’m going to buy a pair of shoes.
I saw a pair of mourning doves on my roof.

If it’s correct to say a pair of something, doesn’t it make sense to say a couple of when you mean two of something?

But according to some sources — Merriam Webster, for example — couple also can imply two or a small number. The dictionary giant adds that you can drop the of when using a couple informally:

I’m taking a couple of days off.
May I borrow a couple of dollars?
We’ve had both dogs for a couple of years.

Using a couple instead of a couple of will not bring the grammar police to your door, but it might cause some to want to fill in the of. To me, it simply sounds more grammatically complete to add of.

Considering how complicated the English language can be, there of course is an exception. When you are using couple with more, you don’t need of:

We can expect a couple more wins this season.
I could use a couple more tomatoes for the salad.
Let’s find a couple more people to play bridge.

You can get by with saying or writing a couple minutes, a couple people or a couple things, but it will cause this Ruthless Editor — and possibly some others — to consider something missing and mentally add the of.

In business or academic writing, use a couple of. For informal conversations, couple can stand alone.

Ask me a question or send a topic suggestion in the Comment section or by the email link in my author description below.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)