This isn’t a trick question or a riddle, I promise. You probably call it a couch or a sofa, right? Well, which one is it? Is there a difference?
Most of us tend to use the two words interchangeably: No, the dog is not supposed to be on the couch, or Hey, check out my new sofa! Whatever you call it, both are perfectly acceptable for movie marathons or afternoon naps or entertaining friends.
I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary for some insight:
“Couch” is an old word, dating back to the 14th century, from the French couche (noun) and coucher (verb). It referred to a structure on which to lie down for rest or sleep. Now it is more so defined as a piece of furniture for reclining or sitting on.
“Sofa” has French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic roots. Its use doesn’t date quite back as far as couch (c. 17th century), and referred to 1. a section of floor raised 1 or 2 feet, covered with carpets and cushions, and used for sitting; 2. A long, stuffed seat with a back and ends used for reclining.
The OED is all well and good, but unless you’re interested in etymology, the above information doesn’t do too much to answer the question in terms of the now. Is there a distinction in modern, American society? (I note American society because sofa is more generally used in the UK).
The couch is the thrash-able object at the center of a well-used living room, upon whose back toddlers straddle, whose cushions teenager become permanent fixtures, and which, at the end of the day, after the children are in bed, a couple might relax with a short glass of bourbon.
A sofa, on the other hand, sits under a trimly hung painting and lives in a house in which traffic passes it by. It would be white, of course, or another color begging for stain. And most people living at the house of a sofa would be forbidden to sit upon it at one time or another.
Hear me out for a moment.
Functionally, they really serve the same purpose: to rest. Whether that’s sitting, lying down, sleeping, napping, cuddling, or some version of all of the above, it’s a piece of furniture that enables you to no longer stand. And unlike most chairs, there’s some extra room.
Modern furniture design–and just modern design preferences in general–make such distinctions irrelevant.
Take Ikea, for example. The Swedish furniture company has over 100 different sofas. There’s really no distinction between more “formal” seating and “casual” seating. And those multi-functional pieces of furniture that at first glance appear to be a normal couch but then voila! they transform into a bed? They’re sleeper sofas.
The trend for utilizing all available space has further lessened the demand for “formal” living space. Talking to new (young) homeowners, nobody saw a point in buying a formal sofa that wouldn’t be frequently utilized as part of the every day living space.
So. Is there a difference between a couch and a sofa? While some people recognize the differences between the two (at least in terms of perceived differences), such differences are rather moot. While the distinction might have meant something in the past, the younger generation of homeowners really don’t recognize the difference, and use the words interchangeably.
Couch, sofa, chesterfield, divan, davenport, lounge, settee–call it whatever you want, it’s the place where you park yourself or your friends to relax a little. And if your couch is nothing more than an expensive, oversized dog bed covered in fur and drool…that’s ok, too.
Sarah is a content writer and social media assistant with a BA in literature/creative writing from Wilkes University. When she’s not spending her days at work writing, reading, and drinking coffee, she’s usually at home reading, writing, and drinking coffee. She also devotes a fair amount of time to HGTV, drawing, and doting on her dog. As a creator, Sarah believes in emphasizing personality through design and DIY projects.