What do you think constitutes "several"

I was going to post this in “General Questions”, but it’s about as mundane and pointless a question as it gets. Still, it’s bugging me. So here it goes.

My wife and I were watching “12 Years a Slave” the other day and there was a reference made after the 12 year period was over to the “several years” the main character was a slave. My wife said, “several? It was 12 years”. To which I said, 12 is several". To which she said, “no, several is 3 or 4”. To which I replied, “no, 3or 4 is a few. Several would be more than that”. She disagreed, so I looked it up online.

Turns out she was right according to two online dictionaries I checked- they basically said “more than two, but not many”. Now, three of something to me does not constitute “several”. I’m not sure of the upper bound of when “several” might turn into say “many”, but I’d say 12 of something fits easily within the realm of “several”. Maybe it depends on the context and to what the “several” is referring.

Whadda ya think?

IMO 12 is not several. 4-7 is several.

12 to me is beyond the bound I would use “several” for. I’d say three to about six.

More than three; less than a dozen.

I think it depends entirely on what is being talked about.

In terms of years, I would say 12 seems a bit much for several. If I dated someone for 12 years, I wouldn’t describe that as having dated for several years.

I could imagine a situation where, let’s say, someone was in the military for 12 years, and then went on to a 50 year career at IBM. At their retirement dinner, maybe they mention they were in the military for several years before coming to IBM. I wouldn’t really quibble over that, I suppose 12 years seems relatively small when looking back over a working life of more than 60 years.

Still, you’d think that 12 years of being A SLAVE would stand out, no matter what else happens in one’s life.

For other things, 12 could be several. I was just complaining the other day that I didn’t have time to grab lunch, and ended up eating several peanuts left over in a snack pack in my desk drawer. I probably had about 12 nuts. It wasn’t a very good lunch.

To me, “a few” is maybe 3-4 and “several” is maybe 4-7. Getting up to around 10 is “a bunch” and after that I’m putting a different number qualifier, from a dozen to a couple dozen, to a lot, then to hundreds and thousands and so on.

In some US documents, you’ll find the phrase “the several states.” There have never been fewer than 13 United States, and now there are 50.

I look at several having a root in the number 7 so several is in the neighborhood of 7, between 5 and 9.

2 is a couple.

3 to 5 is a few.

5 to a dozen is several.

Over a dozen is many.

More than many is a lot.

More than a lot is a butt load.

And a shit load is more than a butt load.

Depending on the context, it could be 4 to 12, but not if it approaches “all.”

For example, if there are 13 of something (like the original 13 colonies), several could be anywhere from 4 to a maximum of maybe 7 or 8. But you wouldn’t call 12 out of 13 “several.”

2 is a couple
3 is a few
4-7 several
8+ many/a lot/a bunch
(with “couple dozen” and “few dozen” in there for more exact large-number estimating if necessary)

I recognize that most people are not so absolute about their numbers, but 2 and 3 being a couple and a few are an exact science when I talk about them.

Tangentially related thread

Several cats.

Mod Note:
I don’t see them, but we’ve received reports that some of the pictures on this link are of cats what have been hunted. Click at your own risk.

Hal Briston – MPSIMS Moderator

I agree that the use of several is context dependent. I would not use the word several to describe 12 years.

That would be using the other definition of ‘several’, which is ‘separate’ or ‘grouped but separate.’

Three is a few. More than three but less than ten is several.

Takes me back to the “Sovereign Citizen Gets Tased” video:

Fun with words!

In some contexts, anything more than 3 is “many”.

George Gamow, in “One, Two, Three . . . Infinity” notes that some primitive African tribes only have numbers in their vocabulary for 1, 2, and 3. Anything more than that is “many”. Ask a tribesman how many wives he has or how many enemy he has slain, and if it’s more than 3 he will say “many”.

SO, if “several” means
"Turns out she was right according to two online dictionaries I checked- they basically said ‘more than two, but not many’ "
then “several” must mean exactly 3, neither more nor less.

In my mind it’s 3 or more but less than 12.

Several = seven-ish.
Few = 3-5; Many = Ten or more.

Not sure how “lots”, “bunch”, or “plethora” should be defined.