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Sofa vs. Couch: What’s the Difference?

By: Davina Ward
July 13, 2020

Your old reliable couch may be on its last legs. Or, perhaps you’ve moved into a new home and need to furnish it with a shiny new sofa.

Either way, you’ll need a cushioned piece of furniture with four legs that can comfortably seat three or more people. In short, you’ll need a couch — or maybe a sofa? Which is it?

The answer is a bit complicated. Regardless, it’s important to understand the difference between the two. That way, you can find exactly what you need during your search for the perfect furnishings.

We’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about the difference between sofas and couches.

What is a Couch?

The term “couch” is derived from the Old French word “coucher” meaning “to lie down.” It’s easy to see why the word evolved to define the current piece of furniture we’re used to seeing. The primary function of a couch is comfort rather than fashion and style.

Couches come in a variety of styles, including sectionals and loveseats. A sectional serves the dual purpose of sectioning off a room because of its L- or U-shape. It allows occupants to lounge with their feet up. Sectionals often have an elongated seat or ottoman that can double as a storage space.

Couches will often come in sets that include a larger triple-cushioned elongated seat. There may also be a “loveseat.” That features a more compact design of a double-cushioned seat.

Some sets also include a recliner or a single seat armchair whose footrest can extend outward. That allows the seated individual to lounge with their feet up.

What is a Sofa?

The etymology of the word “sofa” dates back to early 17th century France. They took the term from the Arabic word “ṣuffa.” That refers to a long seat made of wood or stone with cushions placed on it.

Today, people consider sofas to be distinct from couches because their primary function is style and fashion. It’s not just casual lounging.

That’s not to say sofas can’t be comfortable and functional pieces. It’s just to say that they can double as decor.

Additionally, there are many varieties of sofas. Some of them have regional relevance and go by many names.

Divans, more frequently referred to as daybeds, don’t have arms or a back. They can also be used as a sleeping spot for guests.

Chesterfields are sofas in which the arms and back of the chair are the same height. It’s a distinct style of sofa.

What’s the Best Fit for Your Apartment?

Whether a couch or sofa is a better fit for your apartment depends on your specific needs. Before thinking about whether you’d prefer a couch or a sofa, think about how you’ll be using your sofa or couch within the living space. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How often will you be entertaining guests?
  • How many guests are you likely to have over at one time?
  • Will you spend a lot of time in your living room?
  • What are your style preferences? (ex. Boho chic, minimalism, country modern, etc.)
  • Would the layout of your apartment benefit from being sectioned off? (i.e. open layout with a sectional to create separate rooms)
  • What are the dimensions of the space in which you’ll place the furniture?
  • Will you need additional features such as reclining, storage, a pullout bed, or modular pieces that you can rearrange?

Once you have a good idea about how you’ll be using your living area and the furniture within it, you can decisively shop for whatever piece meets your needs. That’s regardless of whether you call it a sofa or couch.

Shopping for Sofas Online

Due to the pandemic, you’ll likely have to do at least some furniture shopping online. Luckily, your knowledge about sofas and couches will come in handy!

It’s important to understand that although the terms sofa and couch can be used to describe different furniture pieces, it’s not a distinction that warrants much merit.

For example, if you put the terms “couch” and “sofa” into the search bars of major furniture vendors like Overstock and Wayfair, you’ll get the exact same results both times.

So, it’s best to clarify your searches by specific product features that you want. If you’re looking for a blue sectional, search for that term, rather than the term “blue couch.”

The Bottom Line

Although the difference between sofas and couches may have been more important historically or simply varied by region, the difference doesn’t mean much today! It’s more important to determine what you want in a couch or sofa based on its features.

As both a couch and a sofa can have similar features, you’ll need to expand your search beyond just those terms. Regardless, if it walks like a couch and talks like a couch, it’s probably a couch… or a sofa.

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Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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