The Reckoner!

Does 'a couple' always mean two? Or can it sometimes mean more than two?

Here's a scenario that's sure to make your English-loving heart tingle:

You're sitting in a movie theater behind two guys, one of whom has M&Ms and the other of whom wants M&Ms.  You overhear this conversation: 

* * * * * *

GUY 1:  "Hey, can I have a couple of those."

<Guy 2 hands Guy 1 exactly two M&Ms>

GUY 1: "Geez.  Don't be so generous."

GUY 2: "You asked for a couple, I gave you a couple."

* * * * * *

In this case, who is correct?

  • Guy 1, who believes that 'couple' and 'few' are interchangeable, and can mean more than exactly two.
  • Guy 2, who believes that a 'couple' means exactly two, always.

Reckoning Results!
Guy 1
Guy 2
Couple = 'Few'
Couple = 2. Always.
Previous Reckoning!
Creepy or Meh?
Next Reckoning!
Worse "Adaptation" of Bill Willingham's Fables? Grimm or Once Upon A Time?

Reckoning Comments!

I'm torn on this one.  Originally, I definitely would've been Guy 2 in this scenario.  Now, as someone who has spent eight years in a couple, the word couple has solidified its twodom in my mind.  This is why single people hate hanging out with couples, they're so annoying that way.

Well, it OUGHT to mean two, but yes, it is misused often enough to mean few.   Such is the changing nature of language.

I thought this question was going to be about polygamy.

@James - You thought it was, or you *hoped* it was??  ;-)


See, I think Dan's example is misleading. I might be annoyed at only getting a couple M&Ms (even though that's what I asked for), but if I'm throwing a dinner party and you say you're bringing "a couple of friends" you better show up with exactly two people.

@Michael, there's never a right answer to that question.

Giving people exactly two M&Ms in this situation is just being a pedant. Language changes and words often are used in less-than-exact ways in casual conversations. People should be able to deal with that without getting huffy about it.

That'll teach him.  Next time ask for 6 M&M's please.

Language does change with usage and many people refer to a "couple" and mean a "few". For example, "I'll be there in a couple of minutes". Don't hold your breath waiting for that person to be there in exactly two minutes!

There are times, though, when a couple should mean two: I AM BRINGING A COUPLE OF PEOPLE TO YOUR DINNER PARTY....BETTER MEAN TWO MORE PEOPLE....there is preparation involved. It would be rude and insensitive to mean an undetermined amount....

However, in this case....let's not get petty over a couple meaning a few pieces of candy!!

He meant "can you spill some of those m&m's into my hand, dude? whatever comes out is fine, as long as it's not just one"

Honestly, I would never sit next to a person at a movie who might be so petty about the number of m&ms they give you. On the other hand, why aren't you buying your OWN $3.50 per ounce crap candy?

The Reckoner!