Vague phasing can sometimes be very confusing. When someone says “a couple of days”, how many days do they mean? Two? Three? A range between two and five? In this post, we will discuss the exact meaning of “a couple of days”.
How Long Is “A Couple of Days”?
By definition, a “couple” refers to two things. So technically, “a couple of days” should be two days. However, many people are not being this specific when they say “a couple of days”. The length of time differs from person to person. Some view it as two to three days.
The fact of the matter is, even though words have technical definitions, languages do not always abide strictly by those definitions. “Couple” is a synonym for “pair”, and a pair is set of two things. So by the strictest definition, “a couple of days” should always mean “two days”.
But most people are not thinking or speaking according to the strictest rules and definitions of the language. Because of this, there is no consensus on how long a couple of days is. Some people think it means just two days, while others feel that it could describe three, or even four in some rare cases.
However, four days is rare. “A couple of days” is most commonly intended to be “two or three days”, with a bit of leeway. Generally, if someone is willing to describe a length of time in a vague manner, they do not care to be exact, and don’t feel that there is a worthwhile distinction between two or three days.
You can be reasonably sure that most people do not mean four days or more when saying “a couple of days”, as other phrases are more commonly used to describe that length of time. However, if you want to be absolutely sure of what someone means by “a couple of days”, you should just ask them.
Is It Correct to Say “Couple of Days”?
It is correct to say “a couple of days”. It’s grammatically correct, but vague as well. People often use phrases like this when they have a rough idea of when something will happen, but not an exact one. For instance, imagine you had an assignment given to you, and you are asked how long it will take.
You believe that it will take you anywhere between two and three days. However, you do not know when exactly the assignment will be complete, only that it will be complete within that timeframe. Because of this, you could say “I will have the assignment complete within a couple of days”.
This answer provides a soft timeframe for someone else to know about, without giving them an exact time. This is sometimes necessary, but if you do know exactly when something will happen, you should usually be specific.
Couple of Days or Couple Days?
By strictest grammar rules, the correct thing to say is “a couple of days”. This is because “couple” is a noun, not an adjective. You must say what the couple consists of, which in this case, is days. However, while this is grammatically correct, “couple days” is fine in informal settings.
This is because the meaning of your sentence is not lost regardless of which one you use. Consider the following examples:
- The book report will be due in a couple of days.
- The book report will be due in a couple days.
While the first sentence is grammatically correct, the meaning of the sentence is identical with both of these sentences. Other than technicality, there’s no actual reason to distinguish between the two. In every day conversation, either way of saying “a couple of days” is fine.
Ultimately, a “couple of days” means different things to different people. However, it is most commonly associated with the idea of two or three days at most. Very few people consider this phrase to mean four days or more.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.