What's the difference between a couch and sofa?

Is there a difference between a sofa and couch?

I spent the better part of the last two weeks finding and adding furniture options to my site. Hundreds of items already moved onto the site and more than 1,000 waiting in the wings. With each new piece added, I found myself questioning my every move as I labeled the products. Is that a couch or a sofa? Is a chaise a chair or a sofa? What’s the difference between a console table and a sofa table? At one point, it felt as though I was overthinking what should be a simple task. So, I decided to do a little research to find out what these terms really meant and whether I was using them correctly. Turns out, it’s as complicated and confusing as ever.

Couch vs. Sofa

According to Webster’s dictionary, a sofa is a long, upholstered seat usually with arms and a back and often convertible into a bed (ah, that’s where the term sofa sleeper comes from; makes sense). A couch, on the other hand, is a long piece of furniture on which a person can sit or lie down or, as further defined, a piece of furniture a patient reclines on when undergoing psychoanalysis. (Note to self: you may soon need the latter because your brain is on overload with all the befuddling information you found during this exercise).

I didn’t find the dictionary to be all that helpful, so I did a quick internet search only to find more than 53 million search results on the topic. And beyond couches and sofas, search results provided insights into Chesterfields, settees, Davenports, and divans — all common terms for these nifty pieces of furniture. OMG, who knew?

It appears I’m not alone in my quest to understand and explain the difference between a couch and sofa. From a history lesson to sensible explanations to downright funny, I learned that everyone has their own interpretations. Here are a few examples.

  • Many sites provided the historical origins of the two terms. Sofa is from the Arabic word “suffah,” meaning bench. Couch is an older term from the French word “coucher,” which means to lie down on something more bed-like.
  • One site reported that the most notable difference between the two is that a couch provides more seating over a sofa, which means it occupies more floorspace. This didn’t feel fully accurate, because, by that description, a sofa is a loveseat and that’s a whole other ballgame.
  • Another site reported that a couch is a smaller, more functional, and comfier place to lie down. On the other hand, a sofa is larger, more sophisticated gathering place for conversation. Equally different is the type of arms each has. A couch has a very basic look to its arms, while the arms on a sofa are artfully crafted to emphasize its design — choose from cushion arms, flair arms, slope arms, track arms, English arms, and roll arms.
  • I discovered that many interior designers think of a couch as something covered in plastic at grandma’s house. Most find it sheer horror and sacrilege to call modern furniture a couch. For this group, everything is a sofa. Period. The end.
  • And my favorite definition, “a couch is where somebody crashes when they remain over. Your kids are allowed on it, and you can have chips on a couch.”

Amid all my findings, everyone made good points and, in many regards, were correct in their interpretations. However, at the end of the day, I found that there really isn’t a difference worth worrying about and what you call it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

So, there you have it. Call it a sofa. Call it a couch. Call it whatever you want, as long as you find and buy something that you love and can relax comfortably on. Unless, of course, it’s a chaise lounge… 

I’m still learning about these unique gems called chaise lounges, as well as trying to understand the differences between a console table and sofa table. I’ll have to report on my findings on these later.

Until then, enjoy.

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