In any case, a noun phrase can stand on its own as a sentence, if its an independent clause, like "un couple d'elephants".
Is it only in the male+female sense, or can it be any two, such as male+male or female+female?
Or perhaps I misread you, and you mean that it is a pair as in a 'pair-bond'/ 'romantic/ sexual relationship pair' ?
I don't know if this expresses it well. I mean a couple as in a pair who would attend a dance together, say, as a date?
Could the English phrase "A pair of elephants" be accurately translated as either "Un couple d'éléphants" or "Une paire d'éléphants"?
If so, would "Un couple d'éléphants" mean a male+female pair
and "Une paire d'éléphants" mean any two elephants?
(There is some discussion on this at a related comment thread.)
Actually, I don't think I have ever heard "une paire d'éléphants". Either they are "un couple" (male+female) or they are "deux éléphants".
However, if you said "une paire d'éléphant(e)s", you would be understood.
"Une paire" is more often used for 2 identical or symmetrical things, like shoes, glasses, horns... or pejoratively, like "une paire d'escrocs" (crooks).
According to the dictionary paire can have either of these meanings. Is this then not representative for how it's used nowadays?
No, because this formula is a "noun of noun", where the article is dropped.
In a "noun of noun" nominal group, the second noun adds information on the first one.
a sheet of paper = une feuille de papier (material)
a bottle of milk = une bouteille de lait (content)
a pair of elephants = un couple d'éléphants - "de" is elided to "d' " because éléphants starts with a vowel.
Note: "des" is never elided, because elision is supposed to solve a vowel conflict. Since "des" ends with a consonant, there is no ground for any elision, which is replaced by a liaison: "des [Z] éléphants".
In the case of compound nouns with the structure:
noun + preposition + noun
the second noun, connected to the first noun by a preposition, is usually not preceded by an article (le, la, les).
une tasse de café - a cup of coffee
une guide d'ordinateur - a computer guide
une histoire d’amour - a love story
une sale de bains - a bathroom
un verre de vin - a glass of wine
Do you have a reference that asserts that a few is 'three to six' of something? I've never seen a prescribed value for a few. If you are talking about something like the stars and describing a very small fraction of them, you could still be talking thousands of individual things, and a few would apply quite nicely as it's a small quantity compared to the whole.
the dropped 'of' is seen in some dialects (I am from northern England and dropped it too, as most people there would in my experience) but it is not correct in standard English. I wouldn't say it's unacceptable per se though, but I can see why duo wouldn't accept it as in most dialects of English it wouldn't be correct
True enough: the major style and usage manuals in the United States (the Associated Press and Garner's Modern English Usage, for example) maintain that the of is inherently part of the phrase and that to drop it is nonstandard. But jakejanus is right about dialects that drop it, especially in oral conversation—people from my native Texas almost always do.
When it comes to recipes, "a couple cups" may not be accurate enough, but let's say that it means 2 = "ajouter deux tasses/verres de sucre".
"Un couple" is only a pair of humans or animals, married or the like.
So either "un couple d'éléphants" = 2 elephants.
Or "A couple elephants" = quelques/plusieurs/ deux ou trois... éléphants.
"Une paire" is used for things: une paire de ciseaux, une paire de gants, une paire de chaussettes... and it means exactly 2.