Are there any specific rules that restrict the use of "couple" and "couple of"?

I have a couple of months left.


I have a couple months left.

Are the both sentence above correct and formal? and if we are talking about other object —aside from time/duration — , are "couple" and "couple of" still interchangeable?

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    We got a couple more questions. A couple of questions more. Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 10:04
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    @Vijaya - Throwing the "more" in there does mess things up a bit. I don't have any problem with "We have a couple more questions," but I'm not very fond of "We have a couple of questions more".
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 12:51
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    Also, I recommend writing "we've got" rather than the non-standard "we got".
    – user230
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 2:42
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    @J.R. I see nothing wrong with I have a couple of questions more, nor with a couple more questions.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 19:09
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    I have a couple months left would not be idiomatic in Britain. The point is that couple is a noun, not an adjective. It is like saying I have a basket of oranges left. You couldn't say I have a basket oranges could you?
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 19:24

6 Answers 6


Conversationally, I would say there is no difference. Either one of those could be used, and you would be understood.

However, the word couple has an interesting nuance. Strictly speaking, it means two, or a pair. However, the idiom a couple of can be used to mean a small number of, or a few.

Collins brings this out rather nicely, for example. Under its entry for couple we find:

(pronoun) usually preceded by a; functioning as singular or plural two; a pair ⇒ give him a couple

(noun) See a couple of

and under its entry for a couple of, we see:

a couple of
(informal) a small number of; a few ⇒ a couple of days

So, if you were writing in some formal setting (like an official resumé, for example), I would avoid using couple to mean "roughly two or three," and use a couple of instead. However, if you meant to convey "two and only two," then you could feel free to use couple:

I have a couple months left.

That said, many readers won't analyze the difference between these two so closely, so you still risk ambiguity. You might be better off saying:

I have two months left.

The use of "a couple" makes the statement sound very inexact, no matter how Collins might define these words.

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    In British English, I'd suggest that the "of" is compulsory. Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 15:12
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    @SteveMelnikoff - I'm wondering, even if you mean "two"? In other words, if I have two months left on my lease, can I say, "I have a couple months left."
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 17:34
  • @SteveMelnikoff Consider "Only a couple more boxes left!" You wouldn't say a couple of more here, so do you find it acceptable to simply use a couple in this case? If so, why do you think it's not acceptable in "a couple months left?" (Honestly curious; AmE speaker here, and I'm finding this question very interesting :))
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 0:28
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    @WendiKidd: you're absolutely right. In that instance, the "of" would be wrong. Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 14:04
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    @J.R.: "a couple months" still sounds (to my BrE ears) like AmE; I'd always say "a couple of months". Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 14:05

The expression "a couple questions" is exclusively American. In British English this would be considered an error, and should be replaced with "a couple of questions."

  • Completely correct. If you omit “of” in this example, in British English it is an error. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 13:21

I live in Georgia, USA, and am 55 years old. In my experience "couple of" has been shortened to "couple" in recent years around here, and not only among folks younger than I. I do not hear it used under any particular circumstances (as opposed to "couple of"). I think it is a case where the expression has just been shortened.


I'm sure I don't like this Collins fellow already, and thank you for helping the ignorant masses dumb down the language with a "living language" philosophy where we race towards ambiguity.

In my world, one where people cared to preserve clarity, "couple" meant two; furthermore, "a couple of" was used "as an expression" only by those who didn't know what it meant exactly, and so they were unquotable. This is in fact why the question is asked in the first place.

Without a degree in English, this would be my logic and explanation.

"A couple" means "two." "A few" means "three."

You might say, "I'd like a couple of them" if the pronoun has an antecedent. That is, John says, "We have a dozen peaches," and Mary responds, "I'd like a couple of them."

Similarly, one might say, "I'd like a few peaches," or "...a few of them."

Also remember, when you correct someone, you are bound to hear the living language theory. That is, the language is living and changing. Words change meanings and you can't stop that. This gives you an out on all your errors, for who is to say that your error isn't made consistently enough to gain relevance. Also, there is no Academy of English defining right and wrong. Schools determine what is right in their institution, and a hiring manager may determine what is right. Your piers may judge helping to define right and wrong in a social circle, but as for a definitive "right" or "wrong" according to an Academy of English, there is no such thing.

I try to look at the etymology of a word and use a form that is logical and clear. The moment ambiguity creeps in, I know there is likely a better word, or meaning to be associated with the word, or punctuation to be applied to the writing.

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    I think you mean peers, not piers Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 1:11
  • Living language theory is a term that sheds unwarranted doubt onto the fact that language is evolving constantly. While it's not an argument for intentional misuse of language, you shouldn't use it in this context to dismiss the fact that language doesn't just live in books and dictionaries or in etymology, but in the words that people speak, use and write every day.
    – jimsug
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 3:42

In British English the "of" is compulsory and dropping it will make you sound odd to native Brits. In Britain you would only ever hear "a couple of months" or "a couple o' months" in spoken English, (with the "o'" pronounced with a schwa (/ə/ in IPA),) never "a couple months".

For comparison, consider words like 'pair', 'pile', and 'cohort' that also turn a group of items into a single unit or imply a definite quantity. Those also always have 'of' after them - e.g. "a pair of socks", "a pile of herbs", "a cohort of men", "a peck of peppers", "a bushel of grain", "a pint of milk", "a quart of ice cream" - in none of those cases could you drop the 'of'.

Historically 'couple' meant strictly two, but its meaning has drifted into being an alternative of 'few', which may partly explain how the 'of' has come to be colloquially dropped in American English. Traditionally one would say "a couple of books" and "a few books", with the former requiring an 'of' and the former forbidding its use (i.e. "a few of books" would be ungrammatical), so it's possible that the 'of' was dropped from 'couple' to match the use of 'few' in American dialects, giving "a couple books" and "a few books".


Unless you are talking about two persons (the couple walked hand-in-hand), the word couple should have of after it. This is because it is used as an expression.

So except talking about a couple; you mention a couple of something, not a couple something

If we still dig in further, we may use couple of for identical things. For example - a couple of roses (which means they are identical) but when it comes to months, you may say a couple months left. You might be talking February and March which are not identically same.

  • One blogger called this picture "a couple of roses". So, "a couple of" refers to the number, not them being identical.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 2:50

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