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The Difference Between a Couch and a Sofa: What to Know

Illustration for article titled Knowing the Difference Between a Couch and a Sofa Can Make Furniture Shopping Easier

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That big piece of upholstered furniture in your living room, where multiple people can sit at a time, and is probably positioned based on the TV: Is it a couch or a sofa? This may sound like one of those regional language questions (like “soda” vs. “pop” vs. “Coke”), but in this case, a couch and a sofa are actually two different pieces of furniture. Here’s what you need to know about what sets the two types of seating apart.

The difference between a couch and a sofa

Though we may use the terms interchangeably now, couches and sofas didn’t start out as the same type of furniture. Here’s Meghan Overdeep from Southern Living with a quick history lesson:

Historically speaking, couch and sofa are two different things. The term “couch” is believed to have come from the French word “couche,” which 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, it seems that the difference between a couch and a sofa had to do with arms—or lack thereof. Which means, technically speaking, “sofa” is the correct term.

But today, most people outside the furniture and design professions don’t draw a distinction between the two items.

What to know when furniture shopping

Though trips to a furniture or department store are no longer the only ways to purchase couches and sofas, some people do prefer to test one out before buying it—even if they did their initial shopping online. And it may seem like there are endless options when it comes to couches/sofas, but once you have a specific size, style, or price range in mind, you may find that your choices are more limited than you thought.

So if you’re searching for a couch to fit your needs and coming up short, try doing the search using the term “sofa” instead. At this point, even furniture manufacturers use the words interchangeably, so the product description may not match the historical arms/no arms distinction (though it can come in particularly handy when shopping for vintage furniture).

But if you’re lucky enough to be working with a professional interior designer, or shopping at a higher-end furniture store, there’s a better chance that they’ll use the word according to their original meaning.

Another tip: If you’re looking to buy a loveseat (a small sofa that accommodates two people) or a sectional, they may be listed under the “sofa” category on furniture websites.

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