Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: couple (1).

couple (1). Today: Number. “Couple” (= pair) is a collective noun like “team,” “company,” or “faculty.” As a rule, a collective noun in American English takes a singular verb unless the action is clearly that of the individual participants rather than collective. When two people form a couple, they may act as individuals or as a single entity. But unlike other collective nouns, “couple” should take a plural verb far more often than a singular one. The plural construction is also far more convenient because it eliminates the need to find a suitable pronoun. Other collective nouns don’t present this problem. When the noun is, say, “team,” we have no trouble referring to “its” win-loss record. But the neuter pronoun “it” feels too impersonal to use with as intimate a word as “couple.” So we sometimes see a sentence with “couple” as a subject, a singular verb, and a plural pronoun — e.g.: “In the pilot, one couple is having a sexual ‘dry spell’ in their marriage.” “Looking for Laughs This TV Season? Keep Flipping,” Austin Am.-Statesman, 15 Sept. 2002, Show World §, at 4. There is no graceful fix in these situations — the grammatically correct one, changing “is” to “are,” is especially jarring here because “one couple” seems to demand “is.” It is possible, however, to rewrite: “In the pilot, one of the married couples is having a sexual ‘dry spell.'” For information about the Language-Change Index, click here. Next: For “a few.” Quotation of the Day: “I know that the dictionary is about as human as anything can be, and a product of hard work rather than of inspiration.” Edward N. Teall, Putting Words to Work 88 (1940).
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