A couple things to know

I just encountered yet another person talking about how “a couple things” (rather than “a couple of things”) is wrong and is a sign of the decline of the English language.

It is true that you do well to be aware that “a couple things” will seem informal or even sloppy to some people. But it is a change in progress (and has been for more than 80 years). And such changes herald not the destruction but the continued vitality of the language. Languages that don’t change are dead.

“A couple” is following a course like “a dozen”: from countable noun to quantifying modifier. Some people insist that “a couple” must take “of,” but you will find that those same people happily and without a second thought use a variety of grammatical structures and usages that at one time or another were innovations. “Dozen” passed through the “of” dropping (except when plural, “dozens”) in the 18th century. “Myriad” can still be used with equal justification as countable noun (“a myriad of reasons”) or as modifier (“a myriad reasons”).

Here’s a general rule of thumb: people who decry certain usages and bemoan the declining state of the language generally have a very limited knowledge of the history of the English language and don’t look things up as much as they should.

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