## 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

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bitwiseshiftleft
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

My take:

A couple: almost always exactly two, except in phrases "a couple of minutes" and the like. Comes from a verb meaning to bind exactly two things together.

A couple three: two or more likely three, rather than six.

A few: usually three, or perhaps slightly more. Originally means "not very many".

Several: almost always more than two. Usually not very many (perhaps up to seven), except in its original sense meaning "separate", in which it might mean many (or as few as two).

A handful: unit of volume except when used figuratively to mean "about five", or "about six" if you're Count Rugan.

Bunch: a few more than several, except in the phrase of "a whole bunch", which is several more than that. In the context of tallying bananas, nine.

A lot: vague, means many or much. Originally means a batch or apportionment. In the context of salt, about 70 kg.

Ton: an impressively large number, except when counting elephants.

Hrair: Too many to count. At least five, but potentially 1,000 or even more.

Vangor
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Once you come to an agreement on how many items a couple, a few, several, etc., are, ask them if the same holds true for minutes. "Oh, I'll be there in a few minutes." To me, this indicates how many five minute sets, such as a couple minutes is 10 minutes.

Wookimonsta
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

You see, in German we don't have this problem.
A couple in German translates to "ein Paar" which means two. When it is spelled "ein paar" it means "a few".
Obviously this clarifies everything perfectly.
Unless its spoken language, then the meaning is up for grabs.

pbjones
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I think that there is a rough standard for these
a couple = 2
a few = 3
several = more than 3
a handfull = a reasonable amount, sometimes a generous amount, as in, 'a handful of sweets/lollies'

My favourite counting system is used by a tribe (somewhere) 1, 2, more than 2. I use it often and it answers a lot of questions without fuss. If you are really stuck you can add a multiplier after a short pause, example, there were more than 2 .... thousand

biteme
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple is exactly two. A few is 3-7. Several is more than seven but less than a dozen. A handful is a measure of volume, not quantity.

Marlayna
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Vangor wrote:Once you come to an agreement on how many items a couple, a few, several, etc., are, ask them if the same holds true for minutes. "Oh, I'll be there in a few minutes." To me, this indicates how many five minute sets, such as a couple minutes is 10 minutes.

If you tell me to wait for a couple of minutes and make me wait for 10, I'll be pissed off.

I was taught that several means at least 3, and I can't imagine anyone saying several and meaning 2.
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jrkelly
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I live in Wales where a couple is any number greater than two. Odd really. Where I originally come from a couple is two. Offering a couple of sweets to someone in Wales disappoints them when you give them two. I never tire of doing it especially to my children

Kleptonis
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple is a loose two. If I asked for a couple batteries, I'd expect to get two. If someone told me they had a couple hundred spiders, I would figure they had somewhere between 150 and 300 spiders crawling around.

da Doctah
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Wooloomooloo wrote:
she-ra wrote:A couple means two. I will fight you on that. I don't care about the others.

No. The word for that exists, and it's "two". There's even a redundant backup for that, and it should be used whenever you would like to use "a couple" to mean exactly two: "a pair". That's the one you're thinking of - a couple is just another word for "arbitrary small but multiple number of". So yeah, bring it...!

So how many is a "pair" of scissors, then?

Reading these posts, it seems clear that all but a few (see what I did there?) people agree that "couple" means exactly two, no more, no less. I wish I could get that kind of consensus on the question of whether you can be "between" some number of things other than two. Heck, unlike "couple", "between" even has an old form of the word "two" built right into it!

(The spacing after a period issue I will not get into, because it's been done to death. Whenever I want to sow dissension, I instead ask people whether they rinse with hot or cold water after brushing their teeth, and what they think of someone who does the opposite.)

AllyPallyl
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

In this part of the world (South-West Scotland) the word "hunners" (hundreds) is used for any quantity greater than three. Or any large amount, not necessarily countable.
"Hunners of people take science."
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ThatGuyCalledPete
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A few: 3-5
A handful: As many as can fit in a hand - for peanuts this can be many, for beers (assuming handles) this is rarely more than a few, but it is several.
Several: 3-9
A couple: 2

-- Pete.

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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

ThatGuyCalledPete wrote:A few: 3-5
A handful: As many as can fit in a hand - for peanuts this can be many, for beers (assuming handles) this is rarely more than a few, but it is several.
Several: 3-9
A couple: 2

-- Pete.

Almost exactly my specification except for "Several" I take 4-7 (usually).
As an aside it is never a good idea to tell your friends about your preference here, as they will undoubtedly pick you up on every time you mistakenly address a specific number as anything outside one of your given categories. Also, who talks about "A handful of beers"?

zerox
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I thought we were all nerds here. Obviously a couple = 2±0.5

Now I'd like to know the numerical definitions (in percentages) of most, many, frequent, often, common, occasional, sometimes, uncommon, seldom, and rare.

ziphi
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

It is important to point out the difference between a few and quite a few. Quite a few clearly denominates any number larger than a few, several, a couple and a handful combined.

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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Collaries...
- Railway Coupling: a mechanism for connecting 2 (but sometimes up to 5) carriages in a train.
- Cute couple: 2 (but sometimes up to 5) people in a relationship who look good together.
- Couplet: 2 (but sometimes up to 5) consecutive rhyming lines of poetry.
- Shaft coupling: a device used to connect 2 (but sometimes up to 5) shafts together at their ends for the purpose of transmitting power (comes in rigid or flexible varieties).
- Thermocouple: a device consisting of 2 (but sometimes up to 5) different conductors (usually metal alloys) that produce a voltage, proportional to a temperature difference, between either(?) ends of the 2 (but sometimes up to 5) conductors.

Tass
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I never knew until reading this comment and the commentaries that some people actually put extra space after a period.
da Doctah wrote:
Wooloomooloo wrote:
she-ra wrote:A couple means two. I will fight you on that. I don't care about the others.

No. The word for that exists, and it's "two". There's even a redundant backup for that, and it should be used whenever you would like to use "a couple" to mean exactly two: "a pair". That's the one you're thinking of - a couple is just another word for "arbitrary small but multiple number of". So yeah, bring it...!

So how many is a "pair" of scissors, then?

Well, two obviously. Same as a pair of trousers.

Alltat
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple is 2-3. If you know something to be exactly two, you should be using the word "two" to avoid ambiguities. Since "a couple" evidently isn't a clearly defined term, or at least not one where there's a clear consensus on what that definition is, people you talk to can't assume that you mean "exactly two". You may disagree, but not everyone does, meaning that "a couple" will always be interpreted as 2-3. Because even if the person you're talking to thinks "a couple" means "exactly two", they normally can't be sure that you do too (as not everyone does), meaning that they have to mentally interpret it to "two, maybe three". Convention is ambiguous, meaning the word itself becomes ambiguous when used to communicate.

This, of course, does not apply when talking to yourself, as there should be no ambiguity in that scenario.

Asgar
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Well, the couple-couple ambiguity is part of the price you pay for ditching proper capitalisation. In German, it's exactly the same with Paar/paar, but in writing, you see the difference. "ein Paar Freunde" means "two friends", where "ein paar Freunde" means "some friends".

tl;dr: English reduced grammar, speakers now complain about lack of features.

pretzil
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

How many would you expect is 'a Handful of large watermelons'?

JimsMaher
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Agrees w/ glasnt, he is trolling.

Anyways, my take:

A Couple = 2
A Few = 3
Several > 2
A Hand-full = the maximum amount that you can reliably: hold onto, grasp, deal with, contain, handle, etc.

- I set a "few" equal to three at some point in High School, with the rationale that it has three letters.
- A couple is always two, no more, no less ... and it still confuses me how some people get this point wrong.
- The upper bound for "several" is relative to the typical range of that which is being considered, as it is common to refer to quantities of "several thousand", "several million", "several dozen", etc.
- I've considered consolidating everyones' opinion here, or creating a formal poll on the subject, but the banality of such a matter is more than a handful.

Kemp
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Wikipedia says a couple is two, the dictionary says a couple is two, and I've never heard someone use a couple to mean anything other than two (though, strangely, some will insist it can mean more even if they never use it that way).

I wonder if there is a regional preference for a particular meaning? Either way, I see no reason for it to mean anything other than two.

orthogon
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

ziphi wrote:It is important to point out the difference between a few and quite a few. Quite a few clearly denominates any number larger than a few, several, a couple and a handful combined.

Good point. In fact I would distinguish three phrases:

Few: Not very many
A few: Between some and quite a lot
Quite a few: quite a lot

Few < A few <= Quite a few

The difference between "few" and "a few" is quite important and one of those things that non-native speakers find difficult.

BTW "few" is starting to suffer from that thing, you know: http://xkcd.com/1046/
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

Kemp
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

orthogon wrote:BTW "few" is starting to suffer from that thing, you know: http://xkcd.com/1046/

I can't help turning "few" into a laser gun noise when I read it multiple times per sentence.

Dr. Diaphanous
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

For some reason, every time someone has written 'several' in this thread, I have converted it to 'serval'.

Spoiler:

I guess it's related to the alot
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VectorZero
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

pretzil wrote:How many would you expect is 'a Handful of large watermelons'?
Van wrote:Fireballs don't lie.

Shouthigh
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I went through the first 30+ years of my life without encountering a soul who thought that a couple was anything other than two. It's two and if anybody disagrees I'll cross my arms, puff out my cheeks and storm off, stomping my feet loudly.

As for 'a few', I don't consider it to indicate an absolute number but a relative one. A few indicates either a number that is lower than one might expect or a small part of a larger majority:
'The lucky few made it through to the final round' -- could indicate a range of numbers depending on the competition structure
'Only a few stars are visible in cities because of light pollution' -- You might be able to spot 1, 10 or 100 stars depending on your city, but it's far fewer than you'd see on a cloudless night in the bush.
'Can you put a few blueberries in the smoothie maker?' -- if said by a person who usually likes a hand-full (phew, think I might have got away with that) of blueberries in their smoothie, and said to a person who knows this, indicates that they would like fewer blueberries than usual. The question as to why the first person has developed a sudden aversion to blueberries remains outstanding.

RowanE
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I honestly had no idea there was this much disagreement. I thought I was the only one who meant "a few" when I said "a couple", and that all normal people meant 2.

This is wonderful, and now I want to get into a fight about it. Obviously, if you just mean "two", you should say "two" - "a couple" has three syllables, which is three times as many as you need.

Ezbez
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Thank you, thank you. I will now redirect people here when they do my pet peeve of interpreting a couple to mean always and exactly 2 even in situations where it is clearly being used to indicate uncertainty. Also, a dozen can also be vague! Only when you're talking about things like eggs does it become precise. And for real, people should learn that Avogadro's number doesn't mean *exactly* 6.02214129×10^23 and when I say something ike "Oh that was like Avogadro's number days ago", I'm being vague and could mean anywhere up to 10^24 and as low as 10^22.

RAGBRAIvet
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Then there's the way the trolls in the Discworld count:  One, Two, Many, Lots!
(thanks to Sir Pterry Pratchett)

And just to add fuel to the fire, two more words with indefinite numeric values but still indicating a small set of objects would be "some" and "a bunch".

dzamie
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

RowanE wrote:I honestly had no idea there was this much disagreement. I thought I was the only one who meant "a few" when I said "a couple", and that all normal people meant 2.

This is wonderful, and now I want to get into a fight about it. Obviously, if you just mean "two", you should say "two" - "a couple" has three syllables, which is three times as many as you need.

It might seem excessive, but the phrase "a couple" is more casual than "two," and which one you would use varies on the formality of the conversation, i.e, I would never refer to a set of data as being a "couple" of anything in a scientific report, but I would prefer to say "a couple" when pointing out a pair of robins to some friends. Also, saying "two" requires one to use muscles to bring their lips into more of an "o" shape than "a couple," where the "a" and "ou" have very similar sounds which require slightly less exertion overall.

In general, my opinion is that the clearly-defined terms, like couple, dozen, and ton(ne), when spoken in casual conversation, should, with the exception of hyperbole, be kept within around 5-to-10% margin of error. So to me, a couple means 1.8 to 2.2, but since opportunities to use them as such do not come up often, it usually refers to 2.

Code: Select all

`:Clrhome:while 1:Output(randInt(1,8),randInt(1,16),randInt(0,9)):Output(randInt(1,8),randInt(1,16)," "):Output(randInt(1,8),randInt(1,16)," "):End`

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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple is 2 or 3. A few is 2-5. Several is 5-14. Fuck a handful.
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YttriumOx
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Wookimonsta wrote:You see, in German we don't have this problem.
A couple in German translates to "ein Paar" which means two. When it is spelled "ein paar" it means "a few".
Obviously this clarifies everything perfectly.
Unless its spoken language, then the meaning is up for grabs.

As a non-native German speaker living in Germany (and speaking German at home with my wife) I still REFUSE to accept this. To me, "ein paar" == "ein Paar". I know I'm wrong, and don't expect others to follow along with me on it, but the word quite clearly means "a pair" and is therefore always exactly TWO from my point of view.
To say "a few", I'd rather use "einige".

To note, in English I'm also with those that say "a couple" == "two; no more and no less".
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queueingtheory
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

DSDM wrote:I use "a couple" to refer to two. "A few" is three or an indeterminate number more.

As for the number of spaces after a period, typographers insist that one space is correct. The two-space thing only came about because manual typewriters used a monospace typesetting, and putting two spaces after a period made it easier to see the end of one sentence and the beginning of a new sentence. Even after electric typewriters and later word processors and computers allowed for more realistic kerning, people continued using two spaces, because that's the way they learned, and passed this on to their children.

As a programmer and a person who thinks that rich-text/HTML email is wasteful and a security risk I'm sticking with 2 spaces.

Besides, I actually like the fact that a pause and a stop have different spacing.

Oh yes and a couple is two while everything else is vague.

Then there's also the question of when "here" becomes "there".
Last edited by queueingtheory on Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:10 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

Pressed Bunson
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple: 2
A few: 3 to 6
Several: 7 and up
A lot/A ton: 14 and up

Note that these are all subject to change based on context. One space after a period.
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

biteme wrote:A couple is exactly two. A few is 3-7. Several is more than seven but less than a dozen. A handful is a measure of volume, not quantity.

I'm curious what you think the meaning of "is" is.

Everything you say makes sense if "is" means, "I take to mean", but makes no sense at all otherwise. "A couple I take to mean exactly two" is perfectly reasonable,, although will get you into the confusion with people who don't use that narrow definition.

But it sounds like you aren't making an epistemological or linguistic claim but an ontological one, as if there was something in reality that is "really" a "couple", etc, and you are merely mentioning this ontological state. That makes no sense at all: it isn't necessary for thought or communication (obviously) and it leads to long senseless arguments about what "really is" as opposed to long sensible arguments about how what is is best understood and classified for human purposes.
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Locoluis
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

No. A couple is a pair of lovers.

When people started using that word to mean "any group of two things", they were already stretching it.

Any use of that word meaning any number of things other than two is an affront against language.
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pkcommando
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

One of my favorite high school memories was the lab portion of Chemistry. In a write-up for the lab work in one of our first labs, two of got dinged points for using 'some' and 'few' because they weren't defined amounts, even though for that part of the write-up any greater degree of specificity was a bit fuzzy and we used the Common Usage defense. (Side Note: we still did better than the rest of the class on the write-up for the rest of it ) A few weeks later, a lab handout given out by that same teacher used words like 'some' and 'few'. The two of us who got marked down for it looked at him, asked him how he could use those words and he smiled and nodded. We looked at each other and realized our Chem teacher had just devoted class time and resources to trolling us.

What makes it even better was that immediately afterward he provided the two of us w/ better figures. Our classmates never noticed and blundered through the work. Okay, maybe it wasn't completely trolling of his part, but I did have much more respect for him after that.

steve waterman
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

volume quantities...? Then what would be the smallest to largest sequence ?

a sampling
a handful
a swig
a gulp
a bundle
a mouthful
an armful
a molehill
a pinch
a sprinkling
a touch
a hint
a whack
a dash
a generous serving
serves 5
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MarkkuK
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

"A couple" is "a few" with a different response curve to needs for adjustment. It defaults to 2, and it can never be less. But with only a very small amount of justification it can be changed to 3. With proper justification it can go to 4. In case of force majeure it can go to 5.

If it is about the number of sweets, it is always at least 3 because the fact that sweets taste good counts as a very small amount of justification.

DVC
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple always means two. They are a lovely couple. Are you thinking of a threesome when I write that?
A few means ~3.
Some means a small number, but it is relative. Can I have some hundreds and thousands? Do you expect to get more than 5?
Several means 4, 5, 6 or 7 (sometimes, but rarely , more accurately around 7.