The English language is weird sometimes. We have many words for a single object, and it can be a little confusing. But you know what’s even more of a head-scratcher? Words that are used interchangeably, but mean something different.
You know, like jealous and envious. Many believe that this is the same term, but envious describes the negative emotions you feel when someone has possessions you don’t. Meanwhile, jealousy can center around the fear of losing someone you have dear to you.
The same can be said about a sofa and a couch. Unless you’re a huge furniture geek, there’s a chance you may believe that these two terms have a similar meaning. The same picture may pop in your head whenever you picture either of these terms.
But are they different? Let’s find out.
There is a Lot of Confusion
If you go on the Internet, you’re going to get several bits of contradictory information. For example, The Free Dictionary defines a couch as “A sofa.” That’s a little bit circular, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, Emma Bazilian of House Beautiful says that you should never call that piece of furniture a couch, and that it’s always a sofa. She says it with authority, and who doesn’t say something with authority unless they are right?
Meanwhile, Wikipedia says that a couch is also known as a sofa, and that couch is more of North American term while sofa is reserved for the United Kingdom. However, it does then clarify the difference, which we’ll discuss in a bit.
It’s all so confusing. We should probably look at both sides of this debate and see if a couch is a sofa, or if it’s a new beast.
The Historical Origins of the Terms
If you’re wanting to figure out the difference between two words, you probably want to look to the origins. Every word has an origin, after all.
This word seemed to pop up in the Middle English era, and it’s said to derive from an Old French word, couche. We guess the English language didn’t like that E. The term couche also comes from a verb, which mean to lie down. This means that a couch in these times was a piece of furniture you could lie on.
This word has Arabic origins. It’s said to come from the word suffah, which is a bench or a ledge. It also manages to cognate with a word of Aramaic origins, sippa, which means a mat.
Now we know the two words and what the differences are. But it doesn’t make the two terms any more unambiguous in our opinion. So let’s look at the proposed difference.
What’s Supposed to Be the Difference?
If you’re like us, you are still a little bit confused about what a couch vs. a sofa is. That’s why we’re here to clarify it a little bit more. The main accepted difference is the following:
A couch is something you lie on or recline on. According to the people who say there is a difference, the couch is a little less formal. It’s something you sit on and recline as you’re watching some Netflix. It’s what you may pass out on at a party after having a bit too much to drink. The backs of the couches are reduced, which means they are easier to lie back on.
In addition, couches are supposed to be a bit smaller than sofas are. They are described as items found in a living room, not a family room.
Wait, hold on. Most people used “living room” and “family room” interchangeably. A living room is a more formal place, reserved for guests usually, while the family room is more informal and used for families. However, many still use these two interchangeably.
So in conclusion, if your furniture can recline and it feels plush, then it’s a couch.
A sofa tends to be larger and is more intended to sit on. The sofa tends to have an air of formality to it. You may see the sofa in the living room, and this piece of furniture looks a lot fancier. It’s not the best to lie on, but it’s something you sit on while talking to the people who own the house. A sofa has a raised back, meaning you don’t recline on it.
So, those are the main differences between the two terms. The differences are subtle, and it is something that you may see more in wealthier circles. Someone living in a three-bedroom house probably isn’t making a distinction between the living and family room, and a couch vs. a sofa.
In conclusion, if your piece of furniture is fancier than it is comfy, then this may be known as a sofa.
In The End, It Doesn’t Matter Too Much
There is a difference in origin of these terms, and the differences between couches and sofas are something that most people may not care too much about. Even people who have money probably aren’t thinking about the difference. Many words in the English language, with time, combine into one meaning and are used interchangeably.
It’s mostly an Internet debate. People on the Internet love to debate about things that don’t really matter, and that’s not up for debate. Most debates are like that, and at the end of the day, it’s all semantics. Squabbling over the meaning of a word can be fun, but calling a sofa a couch and a couch a sofa isn’t hurting anyone. However, it is always fun knowing the difference between two interchangeable, yet slightly different words, and we hope you had as much fun reading this as we did writing it. Now, debate about this in the comments. Do you call your sofa a couch, or your couch a sofa? Or does all this talk make you want to take a nap on your couch, as the sofa isn’t built for napping? Tell us below.