Are Sofa and Couch the Same Thing? What’s the Difference?
Historically speaking, a couch and a sofa are two different things. The term “couch,” believed to be derived from the French word “couche,” is used to describe “a piece of furniture with no arms used for lying.” On the other hand, Merriam-Webster defines a “sofa” as “a long, upholstered seat usually with arms and a back, and often convertible into a bed.”
In the old days, the difference between a couch and a sofa seemed to be arms—or lack thereof, meaning “sofa” is technically the correct term.
Does the Name Matter? Luckily, the only people who really seem to care are designers and other industry professionals, where “sofa” is standard. Colloquially, you’re in the clear to use whichever term suits you best.
“They’re readily interchangeable, but I call everything a sofa because I’ve been in the industry for so long,” Skip Rumley, the vice president of design and creative direction at Heritage Home Group, told Elle Decor. “But if I saw a big, fluffy, overstuffed piece of furniture that could recline and was in, say, a man cave, that’s a couch.”
Rumley’s right. Couch, in general, is considered a more casual term—one you’d use when yelling at an adolescent to get up off of one or where you go to relax and binge the latest season of Sweet Magnolias. Sofa, on the other hand, strikes a more refined tone. You can picture a dignified lady inviting you to join her for tea on one. If you grew up with a formal living room, it probably had a more sophisticated sofa that was only used for special occasions.
“There’s an ounce of pretense when people correct you and say, it’s not a couch, it’s a sofa,” Rumley concluded. “I think that’s silly. Call it what you want, but at the end of the day, a sofa may just be a more formal idea of a couch.”
What’s Right for Your Space? Nowadays, many homes have one room that’s dedicated to many purposes. It’s the space where the family unwinds, but also the room where you entertain guests. As you choose a piece, think about how it will be used in your space. You may want a really cushy sectional or couch for afternoon napping or so the whole family can enjoy movie night. A tailored, firmer sofa may be what you’re after if the room doesn’t have a TV and will be used more for sitting. Either way, there is no wrong choice, and when you’re shopping for furniture, specialists will guide you in the right direction. Get what fits your lifestyle.
The Origin of “Sofa” The term “sofa” is a Turkish transliteration of the Arabic noun “suffah”, which is a bench or raised platform meant for sitting or reclining. Traditionally, a suffah would be draped in fabric and adorned with cushions.
True to its origin as a bench-like piece of furniture, sofas have well-defined arms and back. In addition, sofas are usually upholstered. While you can certainly recline on a sofa, they are primarily meant for sitting. As such, sofas tend to be more formal and are perfect for the living room.
What is a Couch? To be honest, there aren’t too many differences between sofas and couches; the biggest difference is their intended use. The term “couch” is a derivative of the French verb “coucher”, which means to go to bed or lay down. Based on this early definition, couches are clearly meant for lounging about. In other words, sofas are meant for sitting while couches are equally meant for lying down.
Lastly, while a couch may indeed have a defined back and two armrests like a sofa, it doesn’t always. A couch may have only one arm, or none at all! Given this fact, couches have a less formal appearance and are most at home in the den, bonus room, or “man-cave”.
Sofa vs. Couch: Interchangeable Yet Distinct Sofa vs. couch—which is it? These two words are used interchangeably in everyday life, but is there actually a difference between the two? We spoke with several designers to find out. Below, the pros share what a sofa and couch have in common and also comment on how the two terms—and pieces—vary. At the end of the day, however, you should feel free to use whichever word comes most naturally to you; the terms are commonly accepted as interchangeable by most people. As designers say, though, a sofa is a more formal piece primarily placed in a living room or family room, while a couch is a casual, lounge-friendly piece that belongs in the bedroom, office, or library.
- Term is more commonly used in the design industry
- Piece is seen as more formal
- Term refers to a piece placed in a main living area or family room.
- Term is used more colloquially
- Piece is seen as more informal and for lounging
- Term refers to a piece placed in a bedroom, office,