A couple [of]

2023-03-01 17:32

That “of” is an endangered species.

I don’t know when it began exactly, but in the last handful of years I have seen more and more prose online that drops the preposition in the phrase a couple of. Here are a few examples from professional writers collected within the last few weeks:

  • I was chatting with a couple readers who were a little frustrated that I wasn’t condemning generative-A.I. technology more thoroughly… (Ryan Broderick, Garbage Day)
  • …the cost of a couple trips to the grocery store. (Jonathan Wosen, Stat News)
  • A couple days later, as the Sunday meeting of the Luddite Club was coming to an end in Prospect Park… (Alex Vadukul, NY Times)

I expect that texting on cell phones may be most of the explanation for this shift. (When I tap out “a couple” in a text message on my iPhone, its suggestions for the next word include “people” and “of,” but “people” is the featured continuation.)

Let’s consult Google’s Ngram Viewer. Here is the result from an English language corpus from 2005 to 2019. The phrase whose prevalence I asked Google to graph is “couple _ADP_” — that is, the word “couple” followed by any preposition or postposition. (Did you know about postpositions? I had to look it up. Together, pre- and post- are called “adpositions,” hence Google’s abbreviation for the request.)


You can see that the practice of following “couple” with a preposition begins to fade in popularity around 2014.