Couple or Few or Some or Several or Many?

By Sophia Merton, updated on October 14, 2022

The English language has a number of different words to describe quantities without specifying a number. What does it mean when someone refers to a ‘couple’ or ‘few’ or ‘some’ or ‘several’ or 'many’?

As a brief overview, the breakdown looks like this:

  • Couple: In the strictest sense, a ‘couple’ refers to two people or objects, but it is sometimes used to describe a small number that is greater than two
  • Few: A ‘few’ is typically understood to mean a number between two and several, with some people using it to describe three people or objects
  • Some: Usually used to communicate a quantity that is more than a ‘few’ but less than ‘many’-- the context helps determine the quantity implied
  • Several: Generally, ‘several’ is used to refer to quantities of more than a 'few' but less than a number that would constitute ‘many’ or ‘a lot’
  • Many: ‘Many’ doesn’t have a precise number attached but refers to the greatest quantity when compared to ‘couple,’ ‘few,’ ‘some,’ and ‘several.’

‘Couple’ or ‘Few’ or ‘Some’ or ‘Several’ or ‘Many’?

It’s common for English words to have precise definitions, but these words denoting quantity don’t always refer to a specific number. Usually, context can help the listener or reader understand the implied quantity.

What Does ‘Couple’ Mean?

‘Couple’ is often used as an adjective to describe two things. That being said, it isn’t completely uncommon to hear the word ‘couple’ used to describe a small number of things, even if there are more than two of them.

The word ‘couple’ can also be a noun that refers to two people that are linked together in a romantic partnership. In this usage, it only refers to two individuals.

It can also refer to two or more individuals that are considered together in a certain context. For example, you could say, “there are a couple of women in the living room.” In this usage, it could mean two or another small number more than one.

Finally, ‘couple’ is also a verb that means “to join for combined effect,” “to fasten together,” “to join in marriage or sexual union,” or “to connect for consideration together.”

What Does ‘Few’ Mean?

‘Few’ is usually used to refer to a small number of things but typically implies a number slightly greater than a 'couple.' Some people use ‘few’ to specifically mean three things, while others believe it means three or four items.

The truth is, there isn’t a hard and fast rule for how many objects the word ‘few’ describes. That being said, it is generally used to describe a small number of things.

The intent has a lot to do with the meaning here. If one person asks to borrow “a few dollars,” they might mean only three or four. However, someone else could mean ten dollars or more using the same phrase.

There is a subtle difference between ‘a few’ and ‘few’ that should be addressed.

‘Few’ tends to emphasize the limitedness of a quantity. For example, “Few people actually attended the highly promoted event.”

‘A few,’ on the other hand, is used to express that there are some rather than none– e.g., “We didn’t expect any Christmas cards this year, but we did receive a few.”

What Does ‘Some’ Mean?

The word ‘some’ doesn’t refer to a specific number of things. It can be understood to mean the same as a ‘few’ or nearly as many things as ‘several.’

Depending on the intent of the speaker, the meaning of ‘some’ can vary. That being said, it usually means more than a 'couple' but not a large number of a specific item or thing.

What Does ‘Several’ Mean?

‘Several’ is commonly used to refer to a number that is larger than both a couple and a few but fewer than 'many.' Sometimes, though, you might hear it used in place of ‘couple’ or ‘few’ to describe a relatively small number of things.

What Does ‘Many’ Mean?

‘Many’ doesn’t have a precise number attached to it but is generally understood to refer to more things than any of the aforementioned words (‘couple,’ ‘few,’ ‘some,’ or ‘several.’) It is often used interchangeably with 'a lot'-- for example, "there were a lot of dogs" vs. "there were many dogs."

It can also be used as a noun to describe the majority of people. For example, ‘the politician promised to focus on the needs of the many.’

Finally, ‘many’ can also be a pronoun that describes a large number of people or things. For example, ‘They hoped the new system would solve many of their problems.’

Sentence Examples For ‘Couple,’ ‘Few,’ ‘Some,’ ‘Several,’ and ‘Many’

To help understand the ways that these words are used in writing and spoken language, let’s look at ‘several’ example sentences for each one.

Using ‘Couple’ in a Sentence

Let’s look at some examples of using ‘couple’ to refer to a number of items or objects in sentences:

  • She has a couple of friends that she met in college.
  • We decided to have a couple of drinks before calling it a night.
  • He was only short a couple of dollars; otherwise, he could have gone to the show.
  • There were a couple of squirrels in the attic.
  • The couple decided to go on a cruise for their honeymoon.

Using ‘Few’ in a Sentence

  • A few people enjoyed the movie, but most of the crowd felt it went on too long.
  • They were hoping to spend a few more days together, but he wasn’t able to change his flight.
  • There were a few stars out at nighttime, but not as many as I was expecting.
  • The painting crew said they would come back on Friday to touch up a few more spots on the walls.
  • Few understood just how much time and effort Tim had put into the project.

Using ‘Some’ in a Sentence

  • Could you please bring me some water?
  • I’ll grab some apples from the store.
  • He said he would bring some wine to the party.
  • Some of the participants weren’t pleased with the results.
  • I tried my best, but some people are impossible to please.
  • Most of the tickets were sold out, but some were still available for the nosebleed seats of the stadium.

Using ‘Several’ in a Sentence

  • He was supposed to be here several hours ago.
  • It took several days for the letter to arrive.
  • There are several similar businesses in this city.
  • We were able to find several more people that wanted to buy our product, but not many.
  • There are several reasons I chose this brand of furniture over the other options.

Using ‘Many’ in a Sentence

  • He had to walk many miles to find a gas station that was open this late at night.
  • Many people think the weather in Antigua is perfect, but Tom prefers a colder environment.
  • There are many liquor stores by the state border.
  • Shirley was hoping to have many colleges to choose from, but it turned out she was only accepted to two schools.

The History of These Words

The history of different words isn’t just fascinating, but it can also be helpful in understanding why they mean what they do.

The History of ‘Couple’

The word 'couple' was first used in the English language back in the 13th century as a noun. In this usage, it meant two people in a romantic relationship, a meaning that is still used today.

Soon thereafter, the word was used to describe pairs of objects. As early as the 1500s, the word ‘couple’ was used to describe an imprecise yet still small number of things.

The History of Few

‘Few’ is a word that dates all the way back to the 9th century. There has never been a definite number attached to it, and instead has always referred to a comparatively small number of things.

The History of ‘Some’

The word ‘some’ comes from the Old English word ‘sum’ meaning “a certain quantity; something, a certain one; a certain number.”

The History of ‘Several’

Dating back to the 1400s, ‘several’ first meant ‘separate’ or distinct.’ It didn’t actually develop its current meaning in relation to quantity until about a hundred years later.

By the 1600s, the word ‘several’ began being used to refer to an imprecise, yet not large number.

The History of ‘Many’

The word many comes from the Old English word ‘menigu,’ which itself comes from a prehistoric Germanic word. It has long meant “a crowd, many persons; an indefinitely large number” as a noun.

As an adjective, ‘many’ comes from the Middle English ‘mani’ or ‘manige,’ meaning “many, much, indefinitely numerous.”

Final Thoughts on 'Couple' or 'Few' or 'Some' or 'Several' or 'Many'

Understanding which of these words describing imprecise quantities to use in any given situation is something that gets easier over time.

The simplest way to understand it is that ‘couple’ is best used to describe two objects or people, while ‘few’ is commonly used to describe more than two but less than ‘several.’ ‘Some’ and ‘several’ describe quantities less than ‘many,’ while ‘many’ describes the largest quantity out of all of the words on the list.

Looking for help in understanding more perplexing words? Check out our confusing words section that aims to demystify the English language.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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