Learn English – Why is “a couple of ” often shortened to “a couple

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I would write a couple of . I often read/hear a couple .

I assumed this was an American English thing (I'm British), and just a convenient shortening of the phrase for speaking. It's easier to say a couple minutes vs a couple of minutes.

On a side note, this doesn't seem to restrict the number of things to two, but just a small amount–less than a few, in my mind.

Best Answer

The Linguist List thread that @cori linked to has a couple discussions of what’s going on here. For example, one commenter says:

couple is coming into the English list of indefinite numbers, just below few. … If couple with this meaning is new in the language, I suspect that it is picking up the grammar of the semantically adjacent word few.

I did a search in the Corpus of Historical American English for A COUPLE OF [N*] and for A COUPLE [N*], to search for incidences of these two idioms ([N*] means some kind of noun).

COHA chart showing incidences of A COUPLE OF vs A COUPLE since 1910

From these results, we see that A COUPLE OF is much more common than A COUPLE, although it should be noted that there are incidences of A COUPLE [N*] dating all the way back to 1820 in the corpus. Interestingly, both terms have been on the rise throughout the twentieth century, and the ratio between them has been decreasing, meaning that A COUPLE [N*] is becoming relatively more common.