We often get asked about the difference between a sofa and a couch. “Is that a sofa or a couch? What’s the difference??” We don’t blame you for being confused. There’s long been a heated debate in the interior design world over the use of the word sofa vs couch.
So, which is the correct word to use for that comfy piece of living room furniture? Or do they mean the exact same thing? In the United States, these two words are generally used interchangeably. But these two words actually have different histories and slightly different meanings.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of a sofa vs couch and want to know more about when to use which word, keep reading!
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What is a Sofa? The Origin of the Word “Sofa”
The word “sofa” is derived from the Arabic word “suffah.” And what does “suffah” mean? It’s simply a bench or long seat made of stone or wood, or a platform used for sitting. Traditionally, these benches would also be draped in blankets and cushions.
Today, the English word “sofa” refers to a long, upholstered seat that has a raised back and two arms and is large enough to comfortably fit two or more people. The intention of this piece is to give people a place to sit.
This is currently the most common word used to refer to that primary piece of furniture in our living rooms. It’s also the word that we most commonly use here at Modsy! That’s what you’ll see them referred to on our shoppable product pages.
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What is a Couch? The Origin of the Word “Couch”
The word “couch” comes from the French word “coucher,” which means “to lie down.” Historically, a couch was a bench with two armrests but no back. The point of this type of furniture was not to sit but to lie down and lounge.
Interestingly, today the meaning of a couch is not a bench with two armrests and no back but a bench with a back and optional armrests. With that, couches tend to have a more casual appearance.
Sofa vs Couch: What’s the Difference?
On a practical level? Nothing, really. Like we said earlier, these two words are used fairly interchangeably in the United States. (Kind of like the words “soda” and “pop.”)
However, colloquially, the word sofa tends to imply a more formal piece of furniture that’s design-driven, while the word couch tends to be used more in reference to large, over-stuffed pieces that are more comfort-driven.
Think of it this way: a sofa goes in your formal living room, while a couch is the perfect piece for a family room or den. The former is what you’d invite guests to sit on during a cocktail party, while the latter is where you’d curl up for a family movie night.
But again—these are very nuanced differences, and in general you can use either word!. When it comes to working with a Modsy designer, you can use the word sofa or couch, and they’ll know exactly what you mean!
Wait—so what is a loveseat, settee, sectional, and chaise lounge then?
While sofa and couch are the two most common words used to describe this piece of living room furniture, there are quite a few other terms—some of which are interchangeable, others that have slightly nuanced meanings.
A loveseat is simply a smaller, two-seat sofa. (A hybrid between an armchair and sofa!) A settee is a different type of small sofa, usually with a slimmer profile; high, straight back; and a shallower two-person seat. This is a more formal piece of furniture. A sectional is a sofa, but with an extra section that’s perpendicular to the main section, which allows more people to be seated And a chaise lounge? It’s an upholstered sofa that has more of the shape of an elongated chair, which supports your legs while you’re—you guessed it—lounging.
And then there are the other terms—divan, davenport, chesterfield. These are all just different words for the same thing: a sofa. (Interesting tidbit: “chesterfield” is the word many Canadians use to refer to a sofa—but here in the US, chesterfield is a specific style of sofa.)
Shopping for a Sofa (or a Couch)?
While we love a good design history lesson, there are more practical matters at hand when it comes to sofas and couches. If you’re in the market for a sofa, you’re probably wondering what style to choose and how much to spend. We have a ton of other sofa content on our blog. Find some of our favorite posts, below!
- Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Sofa Online
- 5 Questions to Help You Decide How Much You Should Spend on a Sofa
- The Ultimate Guide to Sofa Styles
- Sectional vs Sofa: Which should you choose?
- The Modsy Guide to Sectional Shapes and Styles
And don’t forget to check out our living room design ideas page to see some of our favorite sofas in action!