A couple or a couple of?

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A couple of birds

A couple of birds

More and more often I’m hearing the phrase a couple without the following of. I’m finding this annoying, as I’m sure are also many people who prefer their grammar consistent.

Normally a couple means two. We usually follow a couple with of to specify what kind of couple.

  • A couple of birds
  • A couple of dollars
  • A couple of miles.

But we have other words that specify numbers that do not require the preposition of:

  • A dozen donuts
  • A hundred dollars
  • A few raisins.

So it’s not completely illogical to say “a couple years ago…”

In addition, there are circumstances in which one would definitely not include of after couple. I have a couple more things to say about this.

Losing of from a couple of

Language changes over time. One of the most common areas where language changes is in the use of pronouns. If you are an English language learner, you are probably already aware that English is frustratingly inconsistent in its use of prepositions. We ride in an elevator, on the bus, on a plane, but in a car. In England, it would not be unusual to hear “Give it me,” but in North America, the phrase would be consistently “Give it to me.” Is to really necessary?

Logic tells us that in a phrase like give it, there can only be one giver and one receiver. The phrase is in the command form, so the person speaking must be the receiver. The preposition to has no real meaning since the direction of giving is clear from the nouns and verbs.

Similarly, the preposition of has no real function to distinguish a couple of birds from a couple birds. Since I hear professional journalists using this shorter construction, it’s probably something that’s quickly taking root in English. For those of us who cling to the traditional way of speaking, there’s probably no hope that this will go away.