Commonly Confused Words: A Couple, A Few, Some, Several, or Many?

Posted on Categories Legal Writing, Public

In three previous posts (here, here, and here), I’ve addressed some commonly confused words and how to choose the one that expresses what you really mean. Talking about those posts with some friends prompted this one: what’s the difference between a couple, few, some, several, or many? For example, if someone tells you have a few options, how many do you have? Three? Four? More?


A couple: Everyone seems to agree that “a couple” means two. If you have a couple of options, you can safely assume that you will have to choose between A and B, and only A and B.


A Few: Here’s where things tend to get confusing. I’ve asked different people how many they thought the words “a few” referred to. Their answers varied. Some insisted “a few” meant three and only three. Some said it meant three or four. Or maybe more. The answer is that there is no hard-and-fast answer. What “a few” means to me might be different than what “a few” means to you. So, if you tell someone you’ll be there “in a few minutes,” the two of you might understand that to mean, say, less than five minutes, but one of you might mean something slightly longer. And someone who wants to borrow “a few dollars” from you may really only want three or four bucks. But maybe not.


As well, depending on the context, “few” (without the “a” preceding it) could mean little to none. For example, maybe you have few options.


Some/Several: Again, there is no hard-and-fast rule here. “Some” might be the same as “a few” or it might be more, inching up to “several.” You might have “several dollars” in your pocket, or you might have “some cash” in your wallet, and those amounts could vary considerably in both your mind and your listener’s/reader’s minds.


Many: It seems generally accepted, though, that “many,” while having no precise number attached to it, is the greatest in quantity in this list. You might many choices, and that suggests far more than choosing between solely A, B, and C.


So, the bottom line seems to be this: “a couple” is typically interpreted with some precision to mean “two.” “Many” is the most, but an indeterminate amount. If you’re striving for precision, you might want to specifically list a number. For example, there are five reasons why the trial court decision must be overturned. That’s pretty clear. However, if you want some wiggle room, you can use “a few,” “some,” or “several,” but realize you and your listener or reader may have different understandings of what those terms mean.


For more on this topic, see here.

23 thoughts on “Commonly Confused Words: A Couple, A Few, Some, Several, or Many?”

  1. The father of friends of mine arrived home after a long day at work just in time to settle an argument we were having: How many is a few?

    With a straight face, he said from three to 26.

  2. I grew up in the Boston, MA area and in that area a few was perhaps seven. Of course in that area a cup of regular coffee came with sugar and cream already in it. You also worshed your cahh and paahked in Haaarvud Yahd, and rooted for the Redsawks.

  3. A couple means two.
    A few means a small number. (“I have fewer than you”/”they are few and far between”)
    Several, according to its dictionary definition means “more than two but not many”, so a few but not a couple.
    And some, according to the dictionary means “an unspecified amount or number”.

  4. When I was a Navy Diver in the early 90’s, my instructor asked my class that question while treading water. 1hour later we had the answer. The order goes… (1)single, (2)couple, (3)few, (4)some, (5)group, (6)bunch, (7)several, (8+)many.

    1. Barton,
      My husband and two boys were sitting at Taco Bell in Palm Bay, Florida, hashing out this argument at length. I pulled out my trusty smart phone and we began to whittle down our disagreement. Then, by a stroke of good fortune we came across your story. We want you to know that we have decided to accept your definitions due to the fell circumstances in which they were decided.
      Blessings and “many” thanks.

  5. The distinction in definitions appear to be related to the specific, region or locality you attended elementary school in.
    The words were taught this way. A couple was 2. A few was 3 to 4. Several was considered a vague term with 4 to 8 being the accepted meaning. A dozen was 12. 13 or 14 at a farmers market. It could be combined with couple, few, and several dozen to give a general estimate. Some and a group as well as a bunch or many could only be defined in the contest used with a bunch and many considered more.
    We all know a bubbler and not a fountain is the proper term for the fixture or unit, usually in a public area, you get a drink of water from. A fountain is a place you throw coins in…. Yes, I live in Wisconsin.

  6. In my studies to teach English as a Second Language, we were instructed to explain those terms as: a couple is 2, a few is 3 or 4, several is 5 or 6 and many is more than that.

  7. A couple is 2.

    A few is 3 or 4.

    Five is 5, because it’s a round number. It’s five. If you mean 3, 4, 6, 7, etc. you don’t mean five. If you mean 5 you’d say five.

    Several is 6, 7, 8, or 9. Because ten is 10. It’s two 5’s. A ten. Ten-spot.

    Some is 3 to 175.

  8. The only thing I can say for sure is a couple means two. My grade school teacher stated, “When you refer to a lovely couple, there are not three people involved, only two!” t.eske age 60

  9. A “couple” means 2
    A “Few” means 3 to 6
    “Several” means 7 or more

    That is what I was thought in grade school.

  10. I just had a discussion about this and after looking up what those words really mean I was confused. My thought (all these long years) is that 2 is a couple, a few is 3 and several meant 7 or more (it seemed to me the first 4 letters seve gave it away). Everything else was a specific number.

  11. a thing is just one thing
    and a couple things is two
    and if you have three things
    then you say you have a few

    and you start to say there’s several
    after you have four
    and keep on saying several
    even after you have more

    but at some point you’ll have many
    and that’s the word to choose
    when you have so many things
    that there’s no other word to use

  12. A number (a large number!) of years ago, Infoworld published a table that had all of these things, and more, listed in an easy-to-reference way. It was very tongue-in-cheek, but I have been unable to locate it or any mention of it in recent years. It had entries like the ones in this thread, but also things like Many, Most, All (represented as varying percentages), etc. I wish I could resurrect it from wherever it went!

  13. Well, I often tell my wife I am going to the pub for a “couple” of pints and this is usually equating to 5 or 6.

  14. Best analogy I’ve read yet.
    (My husband wanted to be a diver in USN. He was a water bug (surfer & swim teams.) Can’t remember exactly what came of it, I think was something to do with his leiutenet or commander holding him back can’t remember the reason.

  15. The dictionary defines Several as more than two but not many.
    a number of, a few, not very many, a handful of, a small group of.

    I’d take that to mean more than 2 less than 10.

    Several, few, handful, bunch and some.
    These have no numerical significance.
    If you want to say an exact amount you would use the number.

  16. I’ve always considered “some” of these terms to be an approximate percentage of the total potential number or an absolute approximation within the specific context, with the exception of single and couple.

    – A few could mean 3 or 4 OR approximtetly 20-40% of the total (a few [6] of the 20 council members were in attendance. A few in this context being a subjective estimate.
    – Some represents an unknown amount that I approximately approximate the percentage to be greater than 20%, but less than 60%, but more than a couple.
    – Several could be grater than 60%
    – Many is the majority, say greater than 75%, where the estimator is unsure of the capacity. e.g. 13 of a total of, hmm, 15 to 25 total in the population?

Join the Conversation

We reserve the right not to publish comments based on such concerns as redundancy, incivility, untimeliness, poor writing, etc. All comments must include the first and last name of the author in the NAME field and a valid e-mail address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.