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Was looking up the meaning of few, couple, several and many and stumbled upon the follow:

Couple ("A couple of") - Idiom 14:

a couple of, more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few: It will take a couple of days for the package to get there. A dinner party, whether for a couple of old friends or eight new acquaintances, takes nearly the same amount of effort. Also, Informal, a couple.

So thus we know a couple is more than two but not many. Then we look up several:

Several - 1:

being more than two but fewer than many in number or kind: several ways of doing it.

So that raises the question, what is few?

Few - 1:

not many but more than one: Few artists live luxuriously.

So if many is interpreted as the same in both couple and several. That would mean that couple is 2 or more but not many and several is 2 or more but not more than many - 1. Thus several is less than the idiom "a couple of".

My initial thought was that "a couple of" would mean a small number even possibly 2 or more, but several would maybe overlap and then be larger than "a couple of".

So is this correct, is the range of several actually smaller than couple?

  • 2
    I realize that the way some previous ELL questions are stated is different from yours, but there are a couple excellent answers that cover "a couple", "a few", and "several". Here is a related link: ell.stackexchange.com/q/1427. Also +1 from me for a very well written question. – ColleenV Aug 4 '17 at 15:07
  • For the word "few": there is a difference between saying "few [not very many] artists live luxuriously" and "I have a few [more than three] friends". The latter is the one I think this question deals with. On that note, I use the word "few" when there is three or more of something; if there's two of something, I'll say "a couple of", and if there's generally more than 7-8 of something, I'll say "a lot of" or "several". – keitereth24 Aug 4 '17 at 18:06
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There are a couple of potatoes left in the oven.
There are a few potatoes left in the oven.
There are several potatoes left in the oven.

If I heard these three statements on three different days, I'd expect to see more potatoes in the oven on the third day than on the other two. (In my mind, at least, "several" connotes more that "a few" or "a couple of" – which are roughly the same.)

If it were me speaking, I'd probably use "a couple of" for 2 to 3 potatoes, "a few" for 3 to 5 potatoes, and "several" for 5 potatoes to just shy of a dozen. If there were more than ten potatoes, though, I might shift to, "There are lots of potatoes left in the oven."

That all said, there is much room for debate and interpretation. These are fuzzy lines and we shouldn't try to examine dictionary definitions as if they are intended to set mathematical boundaries. Thankfully, these words are more flexible than that.

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There are a couple of potatoes left in the oven.

There is a very low number of potatoes in the oven, but at least 2, irrespective of the total number of potatoes that were put there in the first place. Couple doesn't work once you get in quantities more than 3 or 4 (then you have some, several or a bunch.)

There are several potatoes left in the oven.

There is a low number of potatoes in the oven, irrespective of the total number of potatoes that were put there in the first place. This is generally used if the quantity left is more than 2.

There are a few potatoes left in the oven.

The quantity referenced by few depends on how many potatoes were put in the oven in the first place. If this is an industrial oven capable of cooking 1,000 potatoes, a few could mean 100 potatoes. For a home oven, if maybe 8 potates were put in and 3 are left, that would be a few.

If there are exactly 2 left, out of something like 8 or higher, a couple of would be better to describe it than a few.

Couple and several talk about absolute quantities (couple being smaller and slightly more definite than several) while few is more about being relative to a larger number or larger whole.

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These are intentionally vague values. You don't get precision from them because that's the exact opposite of what they mean.

Yes, it might be worth it to try to be more accurate in your use of them, but not to the extent of splitting hairs.


One note: a couple means two. It always means two, but sometimes it is used to mean "two," and sometimes only to mean "roughly two," --that's why it suggests 2 or 3.

Further comment: The problem with your "math" is that you're basically trying to add and subtract the rounded-off part of the estimate.

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