A listener had actually a misunderstanding v a co-worker about the unit volume "a couple" and also a "few." Here's why.

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The Quick and Dirty Words prefer “a few,” “a couple,” and also “several” seem to designate quantities. Yet there’s no agreement, also in the dictionary, on specifically what those quantities are. Use these phrases when precision isn’t important. Usage an actual number when it is.

One of ours listeners recently wrote in, wondering around the proper means to explain quantities.She claimed her sixth-grade English teacher had taught her that “a few” method one or two, and that “several” method three or more.However, complying with this rule, she sent out a work colleague into a panic. She told him the a job would ready in “a couple of days.” She meant it would be done in a day or two. But he understood it, in she words, as an “ambiguous brush-off.” that assumed she to be saying she wouldn’t meet her deadline.
After castle sorted the end the confusion, he said that if she really intended one or two days, she should have actually said “in a couple of days,” no “in a few.”He thought that “a couple” meant a small variety of things—like, no much more than five. But that “a few” could mean anything from three to 10.At this point in the conversation, lock realized your opinions were much apart, and they decided to compose to Grammar Girl for help.Thank you for the vote of confidence.But unfortunately, there’s no right answer come this question.According come the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and also Oxford English Dictionary,“Few” means consisting that a tiny number. Yet what “a small number” is, isn’t clear.“Several” method an indefinite number—more than two and fewer 보다 many. The “more than two” part is helpful, however how numerous things space in “many”?“Couple” is provided as an interpretation “two.” yet to confused matters, “a couple” is additionally shown as being a synonym of "a few."If girlfriend think around how “a couple” is supplied in conversation, that an interpretation makes sense. For example, if who asks girlfriend how many donuts friend want, and you say “a couple,” you would expect to obtain two.But if you’re to run to obtain some coffee come eat v those donuts, and you say, "I'll be earlier in a pair of minutes," no one really expects you come be earlier in 2 minutes flat. They know that you average something prefer "I'll be back soon."So here’s her quick and also dirty tip: Words like “a few,” “several,” “some,” “a couple,” and also “many” provide a very general feeling of quantity. It’s well to usage them when precision isn’t important.When the timing or amount is critical, specify an actual number. If you need an assignment ago in two hours, speak you require it in two hours, rather than “I need this ago soon,” or also “I need this ago in a couple of hours.” If you need six avocados to make guacamole, say “Please get me six avocados,” rather of “Get me several avocados.”Your colleagues will appreciate the clarity, and also you’ll get precisely what you need. That’s a specific—not a general—win-win because that everyone.

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Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She operation Dragonfly Editorial, an firm that offers copywriting, editing, and also design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice chairman of ACES, The culture for Editing, and is the controlling editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.