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Is It a Couch or a Sofa?

This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Abid about something a lot of people have in their living rooms. Here is what he says:

Question:

Hi, I have a question: What is the difference between "couch” and “sofa"?
-Regards, Abid

Answer:

Hello Abid,

In my living room, I have a long piece of furniture covered in cloth. Sometimes, I call it a “couch.” Other times, I call it a “sofa.”

In the United States, the words “couch” and “sofa” are generally interchangeable. That means either word is used to describe this piece of furniture, which a person can sit or lie down on.

A Google ngram of the two words tells us that, in the U.S. today, the words are about equally common, with “couch” being a little more popular.

Historically, however, the meanings were different. The word “couch” comes from French word “coucher” and once meant a low, bed-like piece of furniture that did not have arms. And the word “sofa,” which comes from Arabic, was something more like a bench with arms and a back.

Today, the American public uses either word, whether or not the piece of furniture has arms. However, some people consider the word “couch” to be less formal than “sofa.” And sofas might sound as though they are more costly and refined than couches.

It is worth noting that some industries only use the word “sofa.” That includes furniture designers, makers and sellers as well as home decorators.

And that’s Ask a Teacher for this week.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Words in This Story

furniture –n. things such as chairs, tables, beds which are used in rooms

bench –n. a long hard seat for two or more people

formal –adj. serious used in for more serious events rather than everyday common ones

decorator –n. a person who decorates, or adds pleasant elements to something, especially as a job

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