What is more acceptable in English, if any?

a) "In the background are two pairs of ducks"

b) "In the background are two couple ducks"

  • You probably are aware of this, but in both "two pairs of ducks" and "two duck couples", there are four ducks total. If you say "In the background there are two coupled ducks." then there are only two ducks, and coupled indicates that they are together. – Adam Mar 3 '16 at 17:17
  • I often find "couple" awkward when referring to generic sorts of pairs. – Nihilist_Frost Mar 3 '16 at 18:01

Two pairs of ducks is normal English, and it's a phrase that could be used to describe a situation like this one:

Two pairs of ducks on the water
Two pairs of ducks on the water

However, the word couple cannot be used in the same way as words like dozen, or pair. I might say three dozen eggs to describe 36 eggs, and I could say a picture like this shows three pairs of shoes:

Three pairs of shoes on the carpet
Three pairs of shoes on the carpet

We can use the word a with couple to describe two things; for example, someone left a couple teddy bears on the chair, or someone left a couple drinks on the table:

enter image description here

However, we do not used numbers such as two and three to describe two couple of something.

That said, we can use couples as a plural noun, and say, for example, there are four couples on the lawn:

enter image description here

but we would not say, there are four couple people on the lawn.

  • As a footnote, sometimes "a couple" can refer to "a small number, but not necessarily exactly two," as in, "Someone left a couple nails on the workbench." See couple at OneLook. – J.R. Mar 3 '16 at 18:23
  • 1
    Great answer with great examples. I would also add that "a couple of (things)" is equally acceptable as just "a couple (things)." – cccg03 Mar 3 '16 at 18:47
  • Beautiful and invested answer. Thank you. I meant exactly to the first picture. – Judicious Allure Mar 3 '16 at 21:05

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