Sofa vs Couch: Differences and Similarities
You’re looking to buy a new sofa—or couch—or perhaps sofa is the correct term?
If you’re not sure which word to use, you’re not alone. Many struggle understanding the differences—if any—that exist between the commonly used terms.
Is there a difference between “sofa” and “couch”? From a pragmatic standpoint, there’s little distinction between the terms. However, “sofa” largely possesses a more sophisticated or decorative connotation, whereas “couch” is used for less formal pieces of furniture.
In this guide, we’ll carefully examine the sofa vs couch dilemma, as well as review some comprehensive information regarding sofas. Keep reading to find out more.
Definition and Origin of the Word Sofa
- Definition of Sofa
“Sofa” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a long upholstered seat usually with a back…” At first glance, this definition may seem indistinguishable from what we understand as a “couch.”
So where does the word “sofa” come from? The term hails from the Arabic word “suffah,” which originally referred to a wooden bench covered in pillows and cushions. Generally, these pieces of furniture were decoratively elaborate as well as functional.
Not surprisingly, then, the word “sofa” still carries a more sophisticated nuance today. In fact, sofa is largely the word of choice to refer to more formal or elegant couches that are used to seat and add a decorative flair to living rooms.
Definition and Origin of the Word Couch
- Definition of couch
The term “couch” is similarly defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “a piece of furniture with a back and usually arms…” As you can see, then, you won’t get very far trying to differentiate the two terms on definition alone.
For this reason, let’s turn again to etymology to shine some light on the word.
The term was first used in Middle English to mean “something to lie down on,” but the roots go even further back to the Old French word “couche,” which meant simply “a bed, lair.”
In this way, it can be said that “couch” carries a less formal and more relaxed connotation, which is likely why it makes appearances in commonplace idioms such as “couch potato.”
It’s for this reason why you won’t find many purists calling their living room furniture a “couch,” even if they have no problem referring to their den furniture with such familiar language.
So, What Is the Difference Between a Sofa and a Couch?
Given this information, the difference between “sofa” and “couch” becomes clearer.
Though the terms are frequently (and acceptably) used interchangeably, there may be times when one word is more appropriate than the other depending on context.
The elaborate seat in your living room may be more appropriately defined as a sofa, for instance, while the comfortable seating down in the man cave may be more accurately regarded as a couch.
But while industry experts largely prefer the word “sofa” over couch, they advise not to take the sofa vs couch debate too seriously, recognizing the interchangeability of the two terms in the common vernacular.
Other Types of Sofa
As we've seen, the word sofa commonly refers to the four-seater article of furniture that goes in living rooms.
However, the term is actually quite broad, encompassing a number of sofa types. Let’s take a look at a few of those types to get a better understanding of the word:
A loveseat is a particular type of sofa that seats only two people. Like their larger counterparts, they have a back and arms and are upholstered. Traditionally, these seats were intended for lovers to sit next to one another, hence the name “loveseat.”
Certain variants of the loveseat exist, including the British Two Seater and the tete-a-tete (an S-shaped loveseat with a shared armrest).
Originally manufactured exclusively by A.H. Davenport and Company, “davenport” sofas are now considered to be any sleeper-sofa that has the ability to be turned into a bed. In this way, these sofas are similar to futons.
While certain individuals use the terms “davenport,” “sofa,” and “couch,” interchangeably, the sleeper-sofa distinction characteristic of the davenport excludes any traditional sofa or couch from being considered a proper davenport.
As the name implies, the Chesterfield is a unique type of sofa that originated in Britain.
Associated with luxury, wealth, and timeless fashion, the Chesterfield sofa is easily recognizable by its tufted brown leather upholstery and high arms that are as high as the back of the sofa.
With a history that spans over three centuries, the Chesterfield remains among one of the most sought-after luxury furniture pieces.
In recent years, Chesterfield sofas have experienced some variation in design, with some newer models being upholstered in velvet instead of leather and coming in slimmer sizes.
Originating in Persia, the divan is a unique type of Middle Eastern sofa that usually has no back and that is generally set against a wall.
In certain ways, divan sofas are more akin to mattresses, though some divan models may have one arm. Divans are placed either on the floor or on some other elevated structure.
The common image associated with the divan is the sofa used by many psychologists (and most famously by Freud) when having sessions with their patients, though the furniture is used decoratively and recreationally in homes, as well.
For the 99%, the distinction between a sofa and a couch is one without merit.
If you’re looking to be precise or require correct terminology to carry out your interior design, however, understanding the differences between the two terms, as well as their historical usages, can help you get a better feel of which word to use in the appropriate context.
In this guide, we covered the sofa vs couch debate in detail, explaining the difference between “sofa” and “couch” and going over many sofa varieties you’ll want to know about when designing your home.
Make sure to use this guide as your reference if you or anyone you know is stuck on these admittedly tricky terms!