August 19, 2010

coupleとfewとseveralは違う:How many is a couple, few, and several?

two men?  three men? (c) A FEW GOOD MEN


In Japan, we learn to translate 'a couple, a few, and several' more or less in the same way (ikutsukanoいくつかの, suuko数個). Teachers say they all fall into the same "more than one, but not many" category.  But I realized there's a clear difference like this;

couple <  few < several.
Just like Small, Medium, Large.

Pushed hard, my kids gave me those numbers;

A couple is 2.
A Few is 3.
Several is 5 or 6.
Dozen is 12 and baker's dozen is 13.

As you can see here at Yahoo! UK & Ireland Answers, the imagined quantities differ from person to person and from situation to situation, but they mostly agree they're not the same, and what they mean by 'several' is way more than I ever imagined. This implies that a subtle miscommunication is happening on daily basis between English-speaking people and Japanese who learned English in Japan; i.e. if you tell your Japanese friends "wait for several days," they may be waiting for "a couple of (or a few) days" and get upset if you don't get back to them by Day Three.


couple of とfewとseveralが全部同じ横並びの「数個」だと思ったら大間違い。several > few > coupleと、大・中・小、L・M・Sぐらいの差があるのである。


もちろん曖昧表現なので話の流れで数は変わるのだが、「大体どれぐらいの数のこと指してるの?」と聞くと、けっこう思ったよりはっきり答えるのだよ、これが! 

うちの子どもの答えは、こう。
A couple = 2
A Few = 3
Several = 6
Dozenは12、baker's dozenは13

他の人たちの回答はYahoo! UK&Ireland Answersで読める。大体似たり寄ったりだ。

a couple of はカップルだから2、a fewは両手に余る3、severalはsevenっぽい数という人もいてハッキリしないが最低5以上、人によっては2桁いく。many=quite a fewじゃなければ全部severalでオケーオケーというノリだ。因みにタイガー・ウッズの愛人は暫くseveralだったが途中からそれさえも消えた。

というわけで、「Wait for several days」と言われて「数日後(2、3日後)」と思ってたら待ちぼうけなんてことになるので、ご用心。severalは1週間と思う方が近くて、2や3ってことは滅多にないんだって。

"Several men on the beach" (c) The Field Museum Library

Related:
A Couple と A Few は違います 、、、と思ってたケド、、、汗

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