‘A couple of … is’ vs. ‘a couple of … are’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

A common mistake: English learners see “a couple”, which is in the singular, and assume that the verb must be in the singular, too. However, the same we’ve said about collective nouns applies to expressions like “a couple” and “a few” as well.

Although the noun itself is in the singular, what it really describes is more than just one thing or person. It doesn’t matter whether you mean literally a couple, i.e. just two people or things, or you use “a couple of” synonymously to “a few”; it represents a plural idea, so the correct form is:

There were just a couple of people at the party. (correct)
There was just a couple of people at the party. (wrong)

Only when “a couple” is not followed by “of” and is used to mean “a pair of people”, and you refer to the couple as a whole, not just to individual persons who constitute it, you should treat it as being singular:

A couple in love is always a nice thing to see. (correct)
A couple in love are always a nice thing to see. (wrong)

This article was based on my guide to the most common mistakes in English, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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