Interpretation of “Several”

Mike Industries Poll

What number best represents the term ‘several’?


We’re having a bit of a disagreement in the office about the meaning of the word “several”. Since such a vague term is only meaningful based on what the population thinks of it, I thought it best to put it up for a vote.

Without looking it up, please answer the question on the right.

90 comments on “Interpretation of “Several””. Leave your own?
  1. Tom Watson says:

    Mike, I can’t select the one I want (3).

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Huh, I was able to get it working in IE. Strange.

  3. James Asher says:

    When I hear ‘several’, I think of a certain range, not one specific number. Just a thought.

  4. 2 = Couple
    3 = Few
    4 or more = Several

  5. Mike Rundle says:

    I tried clicking on 147,548 but it wasn’t working, not sure why. I’m using Safari.

  6. Martijn says:

    For me it’s more like ‘multiple’ so that means 2 or more..

  7. anon says:

    I’ve never pegged ‘several’ to any number in paticular, but had the range of three-seven in mind.

    For no other reason, than it’s what my mum told me when I was a child.

  8. For me:

    • A couple = 2
    • A few = 3
    • Several = 4, maybe more

    .. and so on.. though it sort of depends on the situation. Several is generally a range that can be anywhere between 4 and 6.. perhaps 7. More than that is probably closing in on a “lot”..

  9. XINERGY says:

    Beyond singular… Two to three I’ve considered a COUPLE (I know 3 does not equal “couple” in the conventional meaning of the word, but work with me here). Four to six I’ve considered FEW. Thus, seven seemed like the logical choice to be SEVERAL, in my opinion.

    XINERGY

  10. Jonathan says:

    At first I thought, about 4 or so, but not more than 7 or 8.

    But the librarian in me (occupational hazard) is compelled to look it up.

    Being of a number more than two or three but not many.

  11. Scott Smith says:

    I said seven, because “seven” sounds like “several”

  12. Tom says:

    I’m with the camp that groups it alongside ‘couple’ and ‘few’. Although mine’s more like this (the groups overlap):

    couple = 2-3
    few = 3-4
    several = 4-10 (so I picked 7)

  13. Pat says:

    I always considered “several” to be approximately half of “seven”, since the words look like they’re derived from a common root. Since you’re usually talking about integers, that means 3 or 4.

    I used to have a similar uncertainty with “couple”. I was working at a fast food place when I was 17 and this kid (appeared to still be in grade school) asked for a “couple of sodas”. I asked how many exactly and he gave this snide response: “A couple is 2 – me and my wife are a couple.” As if I was the moron for verifying how many sodas he was willing to pay for. The tone of his voice was so grating — he was clearly quoting some authority figure who’d been just as obnoxious to him.

  14. Sean Sperte says:

    I agree with Josh and Ryan. “Several” is 4 or more. (But then, I also consider “few” to be 3 or more.)

  15. Elliot Swan says:

    Couple is 2, Few is 3, Some is 4 and possibly 5, and Several is around 5 and onward. I voted six.

  16. Nathan says:

    IMO,

    2 = a couple
    3 = a few
    4 or 5= several
    6, 7, 8, 9 = quite a few

    errr, or something like that.

  17. Philip says:

    I think it depends on context as well. What are these items you’re discussing? And I don’t think it’s fair to choose one number, it is definitely a range (as are couple, 2-3, and few: 3+ but not too high)
    Since you’re limiting 1-10, you should take the top 3 voted numbers, assuming their contiguous.

    ps – late, but it was good to see you in person at WebVisions. Even though we didn’t meet, seeing a human in front of me was nice.

  18. I vote with Josh, Ryan, and Sean… ‘Several’ = 4+

  19. John Beales says:

    Several – it’s a range of numbers, starting around 5 or 6 and continuing upwards.

    I think that the upper limit depends on context. For example, several dollars could be 50 or 100, but that would be a lot of planets, not several.

    The Merriam-Webster website offers 2 major definitions. The first is more like seperate. The second is:

    2 a : more than one b : more than two but fewer than many c chiefly dialect : being a great many

    Not much help.

  20. roberthahn says:

    bah. you guys are missing a few words here…

    a couple is 2, yeah

    a few is 3-4

    a handful is definitely 5, unless you lost a finger or two (and yes, I WILL say “a handful of elephants” to refer to 5 elephants if I darn well please

    ‘some’ is 6

    ‘several’ is 7

    a ‘bunch’ is 8 or more

    Pay no attention to the fact that several is 4 or 5 – that’s clearly an artifact of a bell curve. ;)

  21. Chris Grocki says:

    We must all be tech people thinking in absolute values, because I’m surprised that no one has done more than hint at how relative a term like “several” is.

    Think of this:

    “He showed up late several times last month.”

    Maybe, say, four? Five?

    Now:

    “Several of the city’s workers showed up to the protest in downtown Boston.”

    Are we still thinking four or five?

  22. Rob Weychert says:

    I agree that a vague term like “several” is only meaningful based on what the population thinks of it, but the population that has participated in this poll so far must be some kind of aberration. As I write this, 19% thinks that “several” can describe a quantity of three, which is so ludicrous it hurts my head.

    Listen up, people! “Several” is never less than six. It goes like this:

    A: 1
    A Couple: 2
    A Few: 3-5
    Several: 6-10

  23. Ryan Bates says:

    You may as well ask how many years is in a “long time”. ;)

  24. Brian Timmer says:

    “Being of a number more than two or three but not many.”

    Classic! So, what is “many”? :)

  25. Defining the word “several” precisely is impossible, for good reason: the entire purpose of the word is to indicate an imprecise quantity. It’s very useful to have words that represent a range of numbers rather than a specific quantity.

    If confusion resulted from the word “several,” the problem isn’t that we can’t agree on a definition of “several,” but that the situation required a precise term when an imprecise term was used. By nature, “several” is imprecise; it is defined here as “an indefinite number more than 2 or 3 but not many” (and, let me add, the definition of many will change depending on the context—which is why the range of numbers represented by “several” changes so freely, as Chris Grocki shows above).

    Mike is correct to say that words mean whatever people think they mean, but the problem isn’t that we disagree on the meaning, but that the word itself is imprecise.

  26. Noah says:

    Serveral to me has to me has two meanings.

    The first is that it means more than 4 when used like this:
    “I had several screws left over”

    Or it can be contexutual and used like this:
    “Several of the rioters were disrubtive down town”

    This is used when we want to talk about a several as a signifigant minority.

  27. William says:

    I like the wiktionary definition and I trust it.

  28. Craig C. says:

    Few is 3-8
    Several is 5+

    They do indeed overlap, depending on your intentions. Using such vague numerical keywords can let you massage statistics to get across whichever point you’re trying to make.

    “A few” seems like a tiny number, hardly worth worrying about, though it could be as many as 8. “Several” can sound troubling and important, even when it’s only 5. “A few” is always percieved as a smaller number, and “several” is always larger.

    In practical usage, “several” covers any number of items between 5 and one quarter of the total, so given 100 items, “several” is anywhere between 5 and 25.

    Over 25 and you can start using vaguely rounded fractions, eg. “nearly a third” or “about half”. “Less than a third” sounds diminutive, while “almost a third” sounds impressive, though both phrases can refer to the exact same number.

    It is the very vagueness of “several” that makes it so useful. We visualize fractions and percentages as wedges of pie, but a non-specific term has no clear point of reference, so it can be however many we wish it to be. “Several dozen” sounds like a lot more than “2 percent”, if you want to inflate perceptions. “Several hundred thousand” can sound very impressive, even if the total is in the quadrillions, making that several hundred thousand barely a drop in the bucket.

    And when it comes to vagueness, nothing beats “some,” which is any number more than none but less than all.

  29. It completely astounds me that so many people here have a precise upper and lower bound on “several”. It’s an imprecise term, people!

    I took one look at the poll and didn’t answer it, since none of those is the correct answer. I’ll throw in my vote for “more than three but less than many.”

  30. Grant says:

    If I was to take a punt on it:

    2 = Couple
    3-5 = Few
    5 or more = Several (depends on the context)

    But I agree with Michael. Perhaps “more than a few” and “less than a lot”?

  31. Keith says:

    Several is 3-4-5 or so when you’re talking about quantity, least that’s how I see it. More than 2 certainly, probably less than 6, but it’s not a precise number you can vote really on…

  32. Josh says:

    I’m with most of the group, where several isn’t a precise number or range, just a concept.

    A ‘few’ on the other hand is a range, though imprecise: More than two, less than ‘too many’. ;-)

  33. I continually argue with a friend about this – he says “several” means two of something. I say, “a couple” means two of something, so several is used for 3-4 of something.

    I’m glad someone is finally trying to sort this confusion out!!!

  34. Erin Julian says:

    This poll made me inexplicably uncomfortable. I think you tapped into some sort of deep-seated insecurity I have regarding number phrases… because I clicked on over here from bloglines all ready to give my insightful two cents, and instead found myself staring, paralyzed, unable to pick a single answer to your simple question.

    Here’s how it went: 1? No. Duh. 2? No, that’s a couple, or a pair. 3? Maybe… although normally I would think of that as a “few.” 4? Maybe. 5? Maybe. 6? Maybe… ARGH! Goshdarnit I don’t know what “several” means. So I hastily picked 3 before I could think about it any more and then hurried down here to leave you a comment.

    In other words, I think you have a long road ahead of you if you are expecting to categorically pin down the mystical-ness that apparently is “several.”

    (Also, I wanted to echo Philip’s sentiment: I was the redhead sitting next to him in the front row at the Webvisions Design Panel, and what a fantastic panel it was! Thanks for your insightful additions to the conversation; I wish I could have heard your morning session as well.)

  35. Martin Kristensen says:

    I think that the term several i highly contextual sensetive. I´m not a native English speaker (i´m Danish), but it seems to me that several can meen anything more than two.
    When i hear the term “several independent sources say” in the news, im sure that it ‘more than often’ (what percentage is that?) means three.

    I just found this on wikipedia/wiktionary:

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Several:
    Noun

    several

    1. Of persons or objects, more than two, but not very many.

  36. Couple = 2
    Few = 3
    Several = >3,

  37. Mike D. says:

    Erin and Philip: Glad you enjoyed the WebVisions panel!

    I have to say that, like Scott Smith, I have always associated “several” with “seven” and I’m a bit surprised at the poll results so far. Particularly — as Rob Weychert said — how anyone could possibly choose “3”, which to me, is clearly “a few” and not “several”. And yet, 3 and 4 are neck and neck right now for the lead with over 400 votes cast. Shocking… just shocking.

    With regard to the seven/several issue, the etymology of the word is as follows, according to this site:

    it came to English in the early 15th century from Anglo French several, which came from medieval Latin separalis and ultimately from Latin separ “separate, distinct”. We find that meaning still today in the legal phrase joint and several, meaning “together and separate” (which is first recorded in the early 16th century). This “separate” meaning slowly metamorphosed into “a number of different [things]”, the notion of “separateness” being taken a step further. That usage we find in the early 16th century. By 1661 the term had come to mean specifically “more than two or three but not very many”, and that is still its chief meaning today.

  38. Bramus! says:

    1 isn’t definaltey it. 2 neither, cos’ that’s a couple.
    The start of several for me is somewhere in between 3 and 4 … it’s not right in the middle, but it’s a bit more than the average. Call it 3.51 :P

    Voted for 4 though, cos’ after pondering a while, 3 is a threesome and is less than 3.51. But on the other hand, 4 could be a quartet … yet it’s bigger than 3.51.

    Besides: Google » “define: several” » several(a): (used with count nouns) of an indefinite number more than 2 or 3 but not many;

  39. Marcus says:

    I cast my vote for seven, mostly due to the feel of it, i.e. when someone recommends a restaurant to me saying “there were several good dishes”, I expect there to be more than three or four good options. Seven just felt… right. I guess it’s a gut thing.

  40. Adrian says:

    My thoughts on how ‘many’ several is, depends on the context.
    In a football game (soccer to you Americans) several goals would be 4/5/6 say.
    But in Rugby, where one try is 5 points, several would be more like 40+ points.

    Several goals in football would be a lower number than several points scored in rugby.

  41. John Whittet says:

    Firstly, the poll isn’t working in IE (I know, I know… using IE isn’t a choice though, so cut me some slack).

    Anyway, the terms “several”, “couple”, et cetera are really subjective to the overall population of whatever you’re talking about. Let’s say you have a project with a budget of $10.00. (A project of, say, buy me some coffee.) Now, I tell you we’re going to be a several bucks over budget, that’s like $3-4 more. Now we have another project with a budget of $10,000,000.00. (A project of, say, buy me Maxwell House.) I tell you, again, that it’s going to be a several dollars over budget, you’re going to realize that the total cost is going to be a fair amount more thatn $10,000,004.00. (You’re also probably going to realize that I never come in below budget and fire me.)

  42. Josh Byers says:

    Now I’m confused…and I’m going to think of this conversation every time I hear these words now for a least a week.

    Thanks a bunch…

  43. Brian says:

    I’ve always thought of these as ranges with the exception of couple.
    Couple = 2
    Few = 3-6
    Several = 7-11

  44. More than a couple.

  45. The poll is misleading. By providing the numbers 1 to 10 you imply that several should be in that range.
    Couple = 2
    Few = 3-5
    Half Dozen = 6
    Several = 7-11
    Dozen = 12
    Baker’s Dozen = 13
    Catorce = 14
    Many = 15+

  46. Matt says:

    Mike, for some reason the poll does not seem to be working in Firefox. IE it’s alright.

    (Editor’s Note: Thanks… should be fixed now.)

  47. Kevan says:

    I’m more inclined to think there’s overlap:

    couple = 2
    few = 2-5
    several = 3-7+

    the point being all these words are relative, and dependent on context:

    John took several guns out of the cabinet – Steve was carrying several bags of cement – I’m not thinking too much more than 3 if at all. Bob took several grapes – this could be more like 5-7 – probably not the 10-12 that a handful might be but probably more than 3.

    I’m more inclined to use specific numbers or even specify ranges:

    Tom ate 4 or 5 pancakes. Don had like 6, 7, maybe 8 drinks last night.

    OR, I use more vague descriptions: a bunch, a handful, lots, some, a pile, etc., etc.

  48. When you only have three fingers, several is 4+.

  49. Eric says:

    Several … seven … sounds too much alike. That’s the first thing that pops into my head.

  50. Tony says:

    Perhaps I misunderstood the assignment, but I chose 3 because that is the absolute fewest that could be considered several (depending on the context). Seven is definitely too large for most uses. Like others have said, usage depends on context. If you are talking about students in a particular classroom, “a bunch” could be 5. If you are talking about M&M candies, several could be dozens.

  51. Melissa says:

    I think it is defined as:

    couple = 2
    few = 3 – 5
    several = 3 – 7

    8 or more would need to be defined as the numeric number and once over 12 you are dealing with dozen or more….

  52. Dex says:

    I agree with what most people are saying. I don’t associate it with one specific number- its more like a range- usually 5 to 7 or something.

  53. Tom von S. says:

    It’s like trying to pick what number a lot is. It’s a range that covers 4 or more, IMO.

    It’s also useful when you have a few but want to make it sound like you have more without outright lying about it. The converse is true as well (think “I only had a few drinks officer”).

    You could also get away with swapping a couple with a few, but you can’t get away with swapping several with a couple. Ya dig?

  54. Brian says:

    A couple is 2, a few is 3, and several is um… more than 3?

  55. Paul says:

    When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I idly asked my mum what the true definition of ‘several’ was, as I was tired of the inconsistencies I was observing.

    ‘Seven’ she said, matter of fact – and I’ve taken this as gospel ever since. No question.

  56. 2 – a couple
    3 – a few
    4 – some
    5 – many
    7 – several

  57. 2 = couple
    3 to 4 = few
    5 to 6 = handful
    7 = several
    8 or more = many

    It just makes sense this way.

  58. Ryan says:

    The dictionary definition which people have been quoting(” 3 or more but less than many”) works for me.

    Also, I have tended to think of few and several as being interchangeable for fairly small numbers of things, but that several can have a larger upper limit, so few could a subset of several. We do have many words in the English language which mean rougly the same thing with only slight differences. So the engineer in me says that if you need to be precise use the actual numbers.

  59. It’s easy. Like many people have mentioned before,
    2 = a couple, 3 = a few, 4 and up = several.

    But more importantly, a couple is always two (2), come on people, just like a ménage à trois obviously always includes three people, no more, no less.

  60. Sue says:

    Hmmm I’m with most people on here that several is more than a couple, but less than the technical term for 7 or more (that techie term being “bunches” or the slang terms “oodles” or “tons” (which never actually refers to the mathematical ton) or “a gazillion”).

    It also depends upon context… if someone is offering several of something you WANT? The number is higher. If they are referring to something distasteful… fewer is better. Relativity rocks.

  61. Tom says:

    “Being of a number more than two or three but not many.”

    more than two or three? not more than both?

    many?!?! ah, the old dictionarial infinite regress-o-rama.

  62. Rafael says:

    I think it’s an exceptionally vague word that doesn’t indicate any specific number or range of numbers.

  63. Alethinos says:

    for some reason it seems odd to me that 3 is the most popular…

    *wont be read since its the 63rd comment

  64. Mushtaq says:

    Although English is not my mother tongue, I think it maybe still be of interest to know, how I perceive the term.
    That difference to other terms like some, few and numbers that represent quantity does not fully justify the existence of this term.

    Maybe the following example may make the additional implicit connotation evident.

    I would say, several types of flowers to emphasize the generic aspect of the flowers.
    But I would say some type of flowers, when the generic distinction was not what I was trying to stress, but just the quantity.

    The term itself does not appear to me to be imprecise, even when it denotes an quantitavively imprecise aspect of some given object.

  65. Dan says:

    “The reasons are several, most of them federal”

  66. Mushtaq says:

    Dan that got my cortex spinning!

    First I thought, that: “There are some reasons, most of them federal” could mean the same as: “There are several reasons, most of them federal.”

    But at closer look, I realize, yours would be an more appropriate answer if you were trying to explain to some one, that there are varied reasons for a certain phenomena. The query would be more or less like: “What are the reasons, for this phenomena?”

    Whereas for answering with:”There are some reasons, most of them federal” The query would be: “Why is this phenomena like that?”

    Again, when you answer with several, you are probably emphasizing the distinctive characteristics of the reasons, which are different generically.
    Substituting some for several may also imply the same thing, but you are not “emphasizing” the distinctive characteristics of each individual reason from each other but just merely the fact that the reasons are more than one.

    Summary.

    There are five (or few) reasons for the existence of this fact. You are emphasizing quantitative aspect with a precise (or imprecise) number.

    There are some reasons for the existence of this fact. You are emphasizing an arbitrary quantitative aspect.

    There are several reasons for the existence of this phenomena You are emphasizing the qualitative distinctiveness of the quantitative aspect of the phenomena.

  67. Mushtaq says:

    Dudes you are to be blamed for getting me up involved in this apparently fruitless enterprise!
    Now how do I explain, “he showed up several times in the past”?
    Breaking my head, eh?
    Wait, need the Muses!

  68. Slavko says:

    WICTIONARY

    Noun – several

    Of persons or objects, more than two, but not very many.
    One chair was in the hallway, and several were scattered around the waiting room.

    Each particular taken singly; an item; a detail; an individual.
    (archaic) An enclosed or separate place; enclosure.

    Adjective – several

    Consisting of a number more than two, but not very many, about seven; a divers; sundry;

    Several people were present when the event took place.
    Separate; distinct; particular; single. joint and several liability
    Diverse; different; various.

    —-

    My interpretation — upto and including 7 (seven)

  69. Mushtaq says:

    Separate, distinct, particular.

    These are additional categories applied to the numerical specificity! Or not?

    Languages as reproduced in dictionaries or Wikipedia or other reference works, do not generally do justice to language in all of its aspects. They are worked over reproductions of something inherently dynamic, when extant. Of course the descriptive formulations of Slavko express the additional categories too, but nevertheless fail to convey the semantic need for the same.

    How can I explain it? It is almost impossible to do that through the strait jacket of established descriptive methodology of categorization in all schools of learning. But there is a way _ oh yes the old proved Socratian way, to expose their nature, to which I attempt to take a recourse below.

    I “feel” the semantic connotations, but feelings are more often than not misleading, but dynamic languages, compared to the dead ones of the books are almost always associated with multifaceted meanings. that may morever vary in groups and classes of populations. Meanings can moreover be conveyed by tone. Ironically uttered, the meaning of a specific word can become the opposite of, what its general usage would warrant.

    Several?

    There may be a problem, in the usage of the term. An imprecise usage by the public, not necessarily warranted by the term itself.
    Before divulging, or claiming some usages as wrong, let me attempt to find a good example of, according to me, an appropriate use of the word several. That can be done only on a comparative basis.
    Perhaps I can elucidate it so.

    When someone asked you. “Are there other reasons for the existence of this phenomena, other than the one you just explained?”

    And you answered with: “There are some reasons for this phenomena!”, you answer would be inappropriate, you are actually dodging the question, a frequently used methodology of the politicians! “Some reasons” in this case is equivalent to: Nobody knows the reasons. I don’t know. The reasons are not fully comprehended. Please don’t ask me. Or I can only give you imprecise or common-sense answers or the views of the public. Of course you might be telling the truth, when you really don’t know the precise nature of the reasons. Or depending upon body communication and the look in your eyes, convey to the person or make him/her feel, that the reasons are actually known, but secret or kept secret. It may be a subtle invitation to further enquiry, however still retaining a semblance of the imprecise.

    But if you said, “There are several reasons for this phenomena!”, it would imply you knew the reasons! Here there is perceptible shift toward precision! And this would invariably always imply a further enquiry. It may also have in this case an implicit connotations, that you are revealing them for the first time to an audience, an audience till now probably unaware of them! It may also be an voluntary invitation to further enquiry.

    And if you were actually having an agenda, to bring to the notice of the public some important issues. You would say: “There are five reasons for this phenomena.”

    I would moreover say…
    One chair was placed next to the table, some (and not several ) were scattered around the room.
    Why?
    Because the chair as an object has more or less already been quantitatively and qualitatively, even if implicitly specified. (Precise)
    But I would certainly say, if I was beginning a narration:
    Several chairs were scattered around the room.
    Here the emphasis is probably on room or anything else but not on the chairs. (Imprecise).
    The generic aspect I was talking about may only boil down to difference in precision, as already noted by some in this discussion.
    It also evident in the meanings of the following two expressions.
    Some species of flowers.
    Several species of flowers.
    What Slav calls “Distinctiveness”.
    I maintain the latter implies more precision! The first is fully imprecise, and in dynamic language (which I have inadequately tried to elucidate above, in the example about the journalist and the public figure) it can gain a mind-bogging semantic, which no dictionary can reproduce!
    It however still does not explain to me, the difference between.
    He showed up several times last month.
    He showed up a couple of (or a few, a number, etc.) of times last month.
    Here I don’t see any qualitative distinction, just quantitative! One could argue for the precision factor though, but it seems to me at present contrived.
    The precision is more evident in: some years ago to several years ago. For instance, I would be loath to start a fairy tale, dealing with temporal non-specifications with:”Several years ago!” The latter would be a prerequisite for a historical narration.
    And then I again, this semantic may be all my own, unfounded, although I presume the Darwinist Economy of modern English or American language would have long eliminated this term from usage, if it did not have some exclusive attribute, not available in other terms, we are comparing it with.

  70. Mushtaq says:

    Further Illustration of Sklav’s etymologic archaic „Distinct” and my characterization of extant „generic-distinguishing „ features of the word Several and the appropriate use of the term.

    Incorrect Usage:
    This problem can be approached from some perspectives.
    Considering this from some vantage points…
    Correct:
    This problem can be approached from several perspectives.
    Considering this problem from several vantage points…

    Incorrect Usage:
    Several plants harbor parasites.
    Correct Usage:
    Some species of plants harbor parasites.
    Plants are living organisms. Some harbor parasites.
    Plants of genus A are found in Biotope B. Several species of genus A harbor parasites.
    Several or some species of genus A harbor parasites (when the genus A has already been a subject of discussion)
    Plants of genus A are deciduous. Several species blossom in Spring.

  71. Mushtaq says:

    Extremely sorry for typing error above, Slavko! I guess my german slipped in!

  72. satya says:

    Hai there…

    May I know the Term for numerical 15 ?

    as Catorce is 14, What is the term for 15 ?

    Thanks in advance.

    [chowdarysr@yahoo.com is a wrong mailid… sorry for the trouble
    post me to chowdaryksr@yahoo.com]

  73. Dan says:

    “The reasons are several, most of them federal” is a quote from the band Public Enemy.

  74. Mushtaq says:

    Alright Jhon, I guess you win and I must admit I am not getting an inch further than discovering, its being imprecise as its main essence? But then you will agree the poll here is basically flawed. It is solely associated with range! This was incidentally the beginning of my argument.

    Discovered the same thing, as I attempted to tackle the temporal usage.

    Tentative Treading on Terra Temporal

    You can bang your fist on the table and exclaim:
    I told you that twice already!
    I told it to you five times!
    I told it to you thrice!
    I told it you nine times!

    But not, when you say:
    I told it to you a million times! (your cheeks may however be red)

    I told it to you a few times already. (you are feeling cool)

    I told it to you several times. (you probably have an exasperated look in your eyes)

    Generally! Generally! But in living world, you could no doubt replace the first one with the last and still bang your fist, to overemphasize or merely because in your rage your cortex being partly dysfunctional, you forgot the word, the limbic system got hold of the next available ghost, gliding stealthily through your tissues or because you were speaking in a foreign language.

    Now why don’t you (generally) bang your fist and say several? Of course you could! This however won’t appear authentic. Why not?

    Rage in civil society needs justification, justification needs precision. Quite simple. Or am I reading between the lines here?

    This could be an invitation for a new approach to what I would call behavioral linguistic. The answers to the question raised here on the usage of several so far only increased my skepticism about explanations through thinking in quantities (manifest in the poll here), abstract categories and more recently in structures, when dealing with living languages. No wonder they fail us after years of teaching of traditional linguistic. Living language is not to be brought into a laboratory, since no laboratory is big enough for that. Dissecting language from behavior has its price. And lastly the imprecise nature of this concept , which for many of us here seems to be a major fact, is mentioned in the dictionaries I consulted, as one of its many attributes, the other being distinctiveness. And looking at Collins, I did discover that in legal jargon, it does exhibit the generic distinctiveness, that I was trying to explain (Collins, Glasgow 1979: 4.Law. capable of being dealt with separately; not shared.). “Not shared” is certainly revealing, and I can now sleep in peace, for not having brought something totally non-existent into the discussion, and consider the discussion to have come to an end for me. Sorry for appearing to have tried to reinvent the wheel. But I repeat that claiming something to be distinct is a potentially a qualitative and generic attribute, and that unfortunately has not been explicitly declared in the discussion above. Perhaps there is an implicit potential in the term, that when expressed in right context, would highlight this secondary quality (not —shared!). And this is more than being only imprecise!

  75. Mushtaq says:

    P.S.

    To avoid misunderstandings about my denoting “several” as precise and imprecise both, is obviously associated with its position,. Below a simple “graph” that illustrates the relative usage, the shift toward precision is linear and to right.
    Indefinite — >> Precise
    Some/Few Several Numbers

  76. MAcsSNAcs says:

    one is… 1
    a couple is 2
    a few is 3
    several is… well a bit more than one more than 3 so I put 5

    could be anywhere from 4 to maybe 7 or 8

  77. Roger Herbert says:

    I don’t understand applying absolute values to vague terms. A “couple” is not 2. “Two” is 2. “Couple” is a non-specific small number that is context-sensitive. Maybe a million, maybe 2. As is “several”, “many”, “some”, “a handful” and so on.

  78. Don says:

    the answer Mike is that it doesn’t mean a set amount and not even a finite range … it is a broad concept

    I drove several miles …

    I went out for dinner with several of my friends …

    I spent several minutes reading these comments …

    More than just a couple (usually means two … but not absolutely) and less that a bunch :-)

  79. Naresh says:

    The actual word for 15 in spanish is [B]quince[/B].

  80. Naresh says:

    The word for 14 is catorse, and for 15 is quince.

  81. Sarah Dawn says:

    A couple is 2.
    A few is 3, specifically but can also be 4.
    “Several” is 4-7 or 5-7. It can also be anything from 4-10, with 4,9, and 10 pushing the envelop.
    All of this depends on if you are talking about time or quantity. Also, if you are talking about how late you are, you might exaggerate by saying “a few minutes,” rather than a very much larger number.
    When using these words to refer to a quantity or time, you are using them to give yourself leeway, usually because you are unsure or because you don’t want to be pinned down. This way, if you get any trouble for being misleading, you can hide behind the fact that these numbers are a bit ambiguous. However, they are all less than ten. —And, they do have an order: one, couple, few, several. I assert that couple means 2, few means 3 and several is more than 3.
    I believe that the word couple and one are both used to give leeway within one unit of time or quantity on either end (one could be less than one, too). I believe a few is used to give leeway within one or two units of time or quantity on either end. And, I believe that several is used to give leeway within three units of time or quantity on either end of 7 (4-10).
    By the way, whey I say “you,” I mean the collective you and I also mean me, Sarah Dawn.

  82. tahseen says:

    What is the term for 15.

  83. Sarah Dawn says:

    I had the same question and have been asking people what they think for some years now. I’ve always believed “several” to mean 5-7. It can also mean 4, since a few is 3. So, 4or5 to 7or8. I think above 7or8 qualifies as “some.” A couple is 2.

  84. BAM says:

    This is insane. I was recently watching a political event on tv. Throughout my life I have heard the following word “Several” used in response to questions I find were either so non-sensical there was no logical answer, a response to a question where the responder didn’t have an immediate answer that was absolutely required of him, or direct statements made where I could see the commenter fishing for thoughts. Normally I hear this word used by politicians, lawyers, and journalists.

    This brought me to googling the term “Several” and hence brought me to this site. Do we all not find it odd that several is used many times on false pretenses by professions in which most generalize as less savory morally? Why Several? It is used quite often.

  85. Frank says:

    2 = couple
    3 = a few
    4-7 = several
    8 or more = many

  86. Joy M says:

    I was always taught:

    2 = couple
    3 or more = few and,
    7 = several

  87. Steve N says:

    Several sounds like seven but probably isn’t because seven is many and definately not a few.

    I’ve heard people say in conversation lately several billion and thats plenty and definitely more than enough.

    My personal estimate of several’s value is 26 but I’ve been wrong before.

    Thanks, I hope you found this helpful.

  88. L'rece Morgillo says:

    My most disliked word because of it’s meaning.
    Who the hell made up the meaning? This is a common sense issue here… we have words for 2= couple and for 3=few (or more)(or less)..whatever! but ask any kid who hasnt been ‘told’ and they’ll tell you it’s seven (or more) (or less).. ARGH! I’m a teacher.. I can’t stand this word because of it’s dumb ass meaning! (now breath slowly.. 1 2 3) .. ok i’m back.. lol.. thank you to all those who are agree =)

  89. CR says:

    How about we just stop being lazy and count. Ha!

  90. chrizzle says:

    I was taught in school that several is 3 or 4 in quantity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe by Email

... or use RSS