A couple of...

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Kubi
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A couple of...

Postby Kubi » 2005-12-13, 14:14

As you all know, a couple usually means two.

But how about the phrase "a couple of ...". Does that always imply "two ...", or can it also be understood as "some / a few...", without alluding specifically to the number "two"?

If I say for instance: "He'll come in a couple of minutes", when do you expect "him" to arrive?

I ask this because of a discussion that has evolved yesterday between several people, both Germans and English, without a clear result...

Thanks for your opinions (maybe it's also a regional difference...?),

Kubi
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Re: A couple of...

Postby jonathan » 2005-12-13, 17:01

Kubi wrote:As you all know, a couple usually means two.

But how about the phrase "a couple of ...". Does that always imply "two ...", or can it also be understood as "some / a few...", without alluding specifically to the number "two"?

If I say for instance: "He'll come in a couple of minutes", when do you expect "him" to arrive?

I ask this because of a discussion that has evolved yesterday between several people, both Germans and English, without a clear result...

Thanks for your opinions (maybe it's also a regional difference...?),

Kubi


Yes, depending on the context, "a couple of..." usually is implied as "some/a little bit," just as "few," while normally supposed to be 3, can also be implied as the same in the sentence "a few of..."

Considering your example sentence, "He'll come in a couple of minutes," I would expect him to arrive relatively soon, probably less than 10 minutes, but I would not think of the speaker as intending literally two minutes. If they intended two minutes, they'd probably just say so.

However, when dealing with physical items, particularly large physical items, I may hear it more as 2. For instance, if someone said "I own a couple of cars," I would probably think of it as 2.

Another thing that we say (which I haven't yet heard in other languages) is to use time such as seconds, minutes, and hours in phrases that don't really intend such exact times. For instance, someone might ask you to "wait a second" or say "just a second." They don't literally mean a second, but possibly a minute, 5 minutes, however long it takes them. We also use "minute" in the same sense. We don't use "hour" in that sense, but an English phrase not actually meaning an hour might be for example: "For the hour of the revolution was upon us." This doesn't mean a specific hour but a general time in history.

Anyway, I figured it would tie in with "a couple of..." in the sense that we use specific phrases for very general things sometimes.
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Re: A couple of...

Postby Kubi » 2005-12-14, 7:28

jonathan wrote:Yes, depending on the context, "a couple of..." usually is implied as "some/a little bit," just as "few," while normally supposed to be 3, can also be implied as the same in the sentence "a few of..."

Thanks for that information, I didn't know yet the meaning of "few" as 3.

Considering your example sentence, "He'll come in a couple of minutes," I would expect him to arrive relatively soon, probably less than 10 minutes, but I would not think of the speaker as intending literally two minutes.

Ok, that's clear. Thanks.

However, when dealing with physical items, particularly large physical items, I may hear it more as 2. For instance, if someone said "I own a couple of cars," I would probably think of it as 2.

Which I would have expected, yes.

For instance, someone might ask you to "wait a second" or say "just a second." They don't literally mean a second, but possibly a minute, 5 minutes, however long it takes them. We also use "minute" in the same sense. We don't use "hour" in that sense, but an English phrase not actually meaning an hour might be for example: "For the hour of the revolution was upon us." This doesn't mean a specific hour but a general time in history.

You'll find exactly the same in German: "Eine Sekunde" or "eine Minute" is often used for "please wait a moment". And "In der Stunde der/des..." can often be heard meaning "at the time of...".
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Re: A couple of...

Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-12-14, 16:20

jonathan wrote:Another thing that we say (which I haven't yet heard in other languages) is to use time such as seconds, minutes, and hours in phrases that don't really intend such exact times. For instance, someone might ask you to "wait a second" or say "just a second." They don't literally mean a second, but possibly a minute, 5 minutes, however long it takes them. We also use "minute" in the same sense. We don't use "hour" in that sense, but an English phrase not actually meaning an hour might be for example: "For the hour of the revolution was upon us." This doesn't mean a specific hour but a general time in history.

In Portuguese we also use 'minuto' and 'segundo' when talking about a relatively short while:

— Espere um segundo!

— Me dá só um minutinho?

Dictionaries such as Houaiss even include in their definition of 'minuto' and 'segundo' the meaning of 'a relative short while', 'a moment'. 'Hora', on the other hand, has a wider range of meanings, but this one isn't included among them.
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Re: A couple of...

Postby Cisza » 2005-12-14, 17:23

jonathan wrote: Another thing that we say (which I haven't yet heard in other languages) is to use time such as seconds, minutes, and hours in phrases that don't really intend such exact times. For instance, someone might ask you to "wait a second" or say "just a second."


So do we in Russian - "(подождите) секунду (минуту)" (wait/just a second/minute) is a very common usage here. I remember a popular joke related to this fact.

Some person calls to an airline call-center:
- Tell me please how long it takes to fly from Moscow to Tbilisi?
- Mmm... just a minute...
- Thank you!
:)
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Postby darkina » 2005-12-14, 17:52

Oh my this reminds me of some discussion I had with my English 'friend'... turned out that if I said "I'll come in 5 minutes", that would mean a short time, from, say, 2 to 15 minutes... But when he said that, that meant 5 minutes, 300 seconds, no more no less :shock: I don't know if it was him or it's an English precision, as opposed to the typical Italian approximation...

In Italian, a couple (un paio) can be used both for really two, but often for a random small amount.
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Postby jonathan » 2005-12-15, 16:45

Darky wrote:Oh my this reminds me of some discussion I had with my English 'friend'... turned out that if I said "I'll come in 5 minutes", that would mean a short time, from, say, 2 to 15 minutes... But when he said that, that meant 5 minutes, 300 seconds, no more no less :shock: I don't know if it was him or it's an English precision, as opposed to the typical Italian approximation...


I don't think that's a language thing— I think that is up to whether the person is time-conscious or not. A lot of people will say "Be there in five" and not show up for another 30, or show up in 2 minutes. It really just depends!
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Re: A couple of...

Postby geoff » 2005-12-15, 17:21

jonathan wrote:However, when dealing with physical items, particularly large physical items, I may hear it more as 2. For instance, if someone said "I own a couple of cars," I would probably think of it as 2.


I wouldn't, in fact when talking about something like cars to me it would sound like more than 2. I'd even say a couple always implies "a few", "several", except when talking about a couple such as in boyfried/girlfriend, or a "married couple".

geoff

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Postby Ariki » 2005-12-15, 22:48

I was taught 'couple' means 'two' and 'two' only. So you could have a couple of twins, which means that there are two sets, and therefore you're talking about four people.
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Postby Pips » 2005-12-16, 21:16

riki wrote:I was taught 'couple' means 'two' and 'two' only. So you could have a couple of twins, which means that there are two sets, and therefore you're talking about four people.


That would be true if you were said "a couple sets of twins". But "twin" refers to ONE member of a set of twins, so if you say "a couple" of twins, you're still only talking about two people.

Do you think "a couple of triplets" means six people? No, it would most likely refer to two people who happen to be triplets.
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Postby Ariki » 2005-12-17, 7:48

Down here, it's 'a couple of twins' (since twins is already plural indicating more than one. You could say set but then you'd have to say sets to indicate more than one set of twins).

(If it's acceptable to a native speaker such as myself, then it's fine).
Linguicide IS genocide. :)

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Postby geoff » 2005-12-17, 9:54

riki wrote:(If it's acceptable to a native speaker such as myself, then it's fine).


And what if another native speaker disagrees with you?

geoff

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Postby Ariki » 2005-12-17, 9:56

well that happens, and thats how dialects emerge (through differences on opinions on vocabulary, usage, semantics and syntax)
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Postby Pips » 2005-12-19, 14:23

riki wrote:Down here, it's 'a couple of twins' (since twins is already plural indicating more than one. You could say set but then you'd have to say sets to indicate more than one set of twins).

(If it's acceptable to a native speaker such as myself, then it's fine).


I know you're not the only one to think this way. I remember a few years ago a puzzle magazine I used to read had a puzzle that involved the phrase "two sets of twins". In the minds of the puzzle's creator, "twins" were two people, so "a set of twins" was four people and "two sets of twins" would be eight people. In the next month's Letters column, there was a great deal of correspondence from readers disagreeing with that interpretation. I think the editors actually admitted that "two sets of twins" could in fact refer to four people, but they also defended their viewpoint as well.
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Postby Dminor » 2005-12-19, 14:31

Kubi, ist das nicht eben so auf Deutsch? Ein Paar..? Das ist jedenfalls auf Holländisch so. :)
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Postby Saaropean » 2005-12-19, 14:37

Dminor wrote:Kubi, ist das nicht eben so auf Deutsch? Ein Paar..? Das ist jedenfalls auf Holländisch so. :)

In German / Auf Deutsch:
ein Paar Socken = a pair of socks (2)
ein paar Socken = a couple of socks (≥2)

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Postby jonathan » 2005-12-19, 23:46

riki wrote:I was taught 'couple' means 'two' and 'two' only. So you could have a couple of twins, which means that there are two sets, and therefore you're talking about four people.


Well, in American English and I presume British English, a couple does mean 'two,' but can be used more loosely and vaguely: to mean whatever the native speaker wants it to! ;)
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