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Sofa vs Couch: What’s the Difference? (And Why We Call It a Sofa)

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!

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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!

And don’t forget to check out our living room design ideas page to see some of our favorite sofas in action!

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Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Sofa Online

While online shopping has been ramping up for years, 2020 was the year where many of us bought more online than ever before. With COVID cramping our style, we’re not just turning to online shopping for clothing and electronics but more and more people are also purchasing everything from groceries to furniture through ecommerce sites.

This year, more than ever before, we need new or different furniture to make our homes more functional. But it can feel difficult to find the right pieces for our homes without going into a furniture store. While purchasing a pair of shoes online is easy, ordering a large piece of furniture from a website can feel stressful and overwhelming. After all, you can’t just drop a sofa in the mail if it doesn’t fit or look the way you hoped!

It might seem terribly risky to buy a sofa online, but it can actually be a simple, easy, and even enjoyable experience!

Want some guidance? Keep reading for our online sofa buying guide, complete with five tried and true tips—gleaned from our real-life experiences—to help make the process of buying a sofa online as comfortable as lounging on one.

green color scheme living room with large white sectional sofa and leather accent chair1. Shop for What Makes You Comfortable

Are you inclined to recline? Find a sofa that supports the way you like to lounge.

Would you believe us if we told you that you can determine if a sofa is comfy online? Although nothing quite compares to the real-life test drive, there are key factors that can help you to gauge a sofa’s comfiness by looking on a website.

Do you want a sofa where you can sit cross-legged and enjoy all the poor-posture slouching you want? Look for an option with a greater seat depth. Do you like to lean back against your sofa’s armrest and stretch out? Be sure to pay attention to the arm height and shape to ensure maximum comfort.

Think about how you really use your sofa and look for the factors that will make it most comfortable for you.

Wondering about different sofa styles and the merits of a sofa vs sectionals? Check out our other interior design buying guides for more tips! 

2. Read the Reviews

You are not blazing this trail alone!

The next best thing to sitting on a sofa is reading reviews by other people who have sat on that sofa. Just a few of the many things you can learn from the reviews are the quality of the piece, how comfortable it is, and if it looks the same in real life as it’s pictured online. 

There’s no telling how much time, money, and energy you can save by reading product reviews—so don’t skip this step! (P.S. Check out our sofa buying guide, which answers the question of how much should you spend on a sofa.)

3. Get Acquainted With the Return & Exchange Policies

Your last line of defense when buying furniture, online or in-store.

Before buying a sofa online, make sure you can answer the question, “If I hate it, how easily can I return it?

Researching a company’s return policy is an absolute must when looking to buy a sofa online. Many furniture retailers have strict return and exchange policies, so it’s important to do your research. For big-ticket items, like a sofa, some retailers require you to ship the piece back yourself and then pour salt in the wound with a hefty restocking fee.

It’s no surprise, then, that many people keep furniture they don’t even like simply to avoid the hassle of returning it. But here’s the good news: there are still many retailers that have super generous return policies, so you can avoid this sofa-sized headache. Do your research first, then shop confidently.

swatches of colors and fabrics4. But First, Swatches

Test drive the material before you commit.

Many retailers offer to send you fabric swatches for a small charge or even for free! This is a great way to test drive the fabric you’ll be lounging on, so take full advantage.

Don’t be afraid to get handsy with your fabric swatches and see how they hold up to everyday wear and tear. Spill some wine on them to gauge how easily they stain. Wipe down the fabric to see how easy it is to clean. Even rub them on your pets to see if their fur clings to the fabric.

how much should I spend on a sofa?5. Visualize It

Make sure it looks good and fits in your space.

A customer recently told us that, prior to designing her space with Modsy, she had tried reconstructing the form of her potential new sofa out of cardboard boxes. And we totally get it! Imagining how a big piece will look and feel in your space is difficult, but it’s also one of the most important steps toward buying a piece of furniture online.

Before you buy a sofa online (or even at all) get confident by knowing how it will look and fit in your space. You can use the magical powers of Modsy to see your sofa in an exact 3D version of your actual room.  (And hey, you can also get other living room design ideas on our website!) Alternatively, you can always rely on a measuring tape, or even compare the dimensions of your new sofa against another piece of furniture.

Whichever method works for you, avoid having to return your new sofa (even though you thoroughly researched the return policy like a pro) because it doesn’t fit or look good with your wall color, rug, or coffee table.

Shopping for a new sofa?

Are you in the market for a new sofa but still a little nervous to buy a sofa online? Snag yourself a Modsy design package and try on all your favorite sofa options in a life-like version of your living room. Not sure where to even start looking? Our designers can help recommend sofas based on your style and budget.

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