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Old 12-10-2011, 06:47 AM   #1
HarryT
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"Couple" without a preposition?

In British English, it is mandatory to have the preposition "of" after the word "couple", in its meaning "two of something".

Eg, "A couple of questions", "A couple of kg of apples".

I've noticed many Americans on this forum omit the word "of" and say, for example, "I have a couple questions". This just looks wrong to me . Is this an acceptable practice in US English?
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Old 12-10-2011, 10:00 AM   #2
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Actually, in your example [U.S. English] sentence, I do say "I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask you."

I'm now wondering if it's a regional issue in the U.S.



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Old 12-10-2011, 11:47 AM   #3
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I do both, depending on setting. It feels equally natural to me to say "I have a couple of questions for you" and "I only have a couple questions". (Or even "I only have a couple," if the objects are obvious in the setting.)

It seems to vary based on formality and how quickly I need to get the sentence out (i.e., is someone walking away quickly, etc.)
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Old 12-10-2011, 02:21 PM   #4
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I don't know if it's correct grammar there or not, but you do see it a lot in American books, and not just in dialogue either.
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Old 12-10-2011, 09:12 PM   #5
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Yup, strangely enough, Americans do often speak informally, relaxing the rules of grammar. But in my admittedly limited contact with Britishers, so do they.

That said, it really depends on the usage. Like you are at a meat counter, you might say "I'd like a couple steaks", but you would also probably say, "I'd like a couple of those steaks" if you were referring to specific ones.

And as mentioned, "I've got a couple questions" vs "I've got a couple of questions to ask you"

No one would ever say a "A couple of kg of apples." "A couple pounds of apples" I think most people would instead say.

It's actually kind of funny that it's used like that. I mean, you don't with "few" when it means three. "A few of questions" or "A few of kg of apples." Probably something picked up from French, which has influenced British English while American English is closer to original English. (Same reason you stopped saying your Rs, the Rhotic shift, only places in the US with close ties to England like NY and Boston picked it up, while the rest of us kept saying them. Most so called "Americanisms" are actually just Britishisms that we kept, but you didn't)
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Old 12-10-2011, 09:37 PM   #6
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Harry, I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but I would say that the omitting of the "of" is always wrong.

In the past sixty years with the growth of rock 'n' roll and blues lyrics into mainstream speech, the idioms (if that's the right word) of the uneducated black tenant farmers who wrote and sang the songs have crept into white colloquial conversation.

So I can imagine an author writing as his characters would speak, but I would think that there is no excuse for the dropping of the "of" outside of an appropriate narrative.
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Old 12-10-2011, 09:47 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GA Russell View Post
In the past sixty years with the growth of rock 'n' roll and blues lyrics into mainstream speech, the idioms (if that's the right word) of the uneducated black tenant farmers who wrote and sang the songs have crept into white colloquial conversation.
There are not enough "rofl" emoticons in the world to express my amusement at the implication in your post that white Americans all spoke the Queen's English before Rock and Black People changed all that.

It's More Complicated Than That.

And, speaking as someone with a degree in English, you can pretty much never say that a style of writing is "always wrong". Odds are, no matter what the rule is, someone has broken it before and broken it to good effect.
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Old 12-10-2011, 10:29 PM   #8
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I'm with GA. It always read incorrectly, to me, to leave out the "of." It doesn't seem to be regional to me.

One regional difference in America that blows me away is when we speak of numbered roads such as interstate highways. It does appear regional to say "I'm driving on the 5" versus "I'm driving on 5." I don't know all the linguistic borders these apply to but we use "the" commonly in southern California but not in northern California. I polled enough people that I consider this observed difference to be reasonably true (I used to live near SF, now near LA). No idea where it comes from.
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Old 12-10-2011, 10:49 PM   #9
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Thanks, Penforhire!

In the South we say neither "5" nor "the 5", but rather "I-5".
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Old 12-11-2011, 04:04 AM   #10
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Using the preposition, 'of' after 'couple' is grammatically correct. You'll never get into trouble if you use it, but you might if you don't. Dialogue is a different matter. Some people drop it in their everyday language (though not in the UK) but in written form it should be there.
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Old 12-11-2011, 04:20 AM   #11
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Quote:
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Yup, strangely enough, Americans do often speak informally, relaxing the rules of grammar. But in my admittedly limited contact with Britishers, so do they.
Oh yes, absolutely. It so happens, though, that we don't relax this particular one, hence my curiosity.
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Old 12-11-2011, 04:46 AM   #12
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Using the preposition, 'of' after 'couple' is grammatically correct. You'll never get into trouble if you use it, but you might if you don't. Dialogue is a different matter. Some people drop it in their everyday language (though not in the UK) but in written form it should be there.
Here are a few examples from MR:

Quote:
I've tried the last couple days...
One day when I removed a couple apps...
It also worked fine with a couple arbitrary Calibre-generated ePUBs...
I just ordered mine a couple days ago...
It happened a couple weeks back...
So it would seem that omitting the preposition when referring to time is a particularly common phenomenon.

I was wrong, by the way, in saying that in British English, "couple" must always be followed by "of", because I also found this:

Quote:
A couple more points...
which would be absolutely fine in British English (indeed, it would be wrong to put "of" in there).
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Old 12-11-2011, 05:16 AM   #13
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So I can imagine an author writing as his characters would speak, but I would think that there is no excuse for the dropping of the "of" outside of an appropriate narrative.
Feeble racist arguments are so easy to refute. Just do a search of the Corpus of Historical American English for "couple [n*]" and see how many instances of pre-1900 usage you'll be able to find...
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Old 12-11-2011, 05:40 AM   #14
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Thanks, Penforhire!

In the South we say neither "5" nor "the 5", but rather "I-5".


Exactly...or "I-40."

We Southerners know how to talk.



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Old 12-11-2011, 06:56 AM   #15
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I'm not a native English speaker, nor do I live in an English speaking country, but I have to say that leaving out the "of" in print looks totally wrong to me!
In speak, sure, I kind of accept it. When I say my "of" it's almost not there, sort of integrated with the "couple". But in writing...

(We have a similar thing of omission of a conjunction in Swedish that also drives me nuts! It has migrated from spoken language to "bad" written language, and now spreading to what should be somewhat "better" writing as well.)
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