For the past several years

Does anything strike you as odd about the title of this post?

I came across this wording today in a book by an American author, and immediately thought, “don’t you mean ‘for the past few years’?”. For me that would be a more natural way to express this. Several in this context just sounds wrong. Maybe it sounds natural and normal to you.

Several is defined on WordReference.com as:

1. being more than two but fewer than many (there’s nothing like precision, is there?)
2. separate; different
3. individual; respective
4. several persons or things; a few; some

Several comes from the Anglo-Norman several (separate), from the Medieval Latin sēparālis, from the Latin sēparāre (to separate).

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Words and phrases.

4 Responses to For the past several years

  1. Joe DeRose says:

    The phrase “past several years” sounds perfectly normal to me. (In fact, reading your title, I was anticipating some update of a project of yours that had been percolating for the past several years. I was momentarily confused that the topic was the phrase itself.)

    Since I’m American, as is the author you mention, it could be a British/American distinction.

  2. Paul S. says:

    Yes, to me (UK, BrEng speaker), “the past several years” sounds odd whereas “past few years” sounds perfectly normal and unremarkable.

  3. Jonathan says:

    As an American my reaction was the same as Joe DeRose’s, though context could make a difference. ‘Several’ comes across as more formal than ‘few’, so a CEO saying “For the past several years we’ve been considering improvements in our …..” sounds unremarkable, but if a friend were to say “You know that gym I’ve been going to for the past several years? …” it would sound a bit off and I’d do the same internal auto-correct to “few” that you did.

  4. joe mock says:

    To me ‘for several years now’ sounds normal, ‘for the past several years’ not so much. I’m and American by the way.

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