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What is the difference between counter and table, in the context of a surface that one might eat at (as in the kitchen counter or the kitchen table)?

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Counter can be used as short for countertop, which is (NOAD) a flat surface for working on, especially in a kitchen. The first definition given from the NOAD for counter is

a long flat-topped fixture in a store or bank across which business is conducted with customers.
  • a similar structure used for serving food and drinks in a cafeteria or bar.

I would interpret counter as to mean, for example, the fixture you can usually see in an American kitchen and that is used for breakfast; its structure reminds me of the counter you find in a bar. The difference with the table is that the table is less height.

When I visit USA in my frequent trips, I hear the word counter being used as synonym of countertop, which is a flat surface for working on, especially in a kitchen. This is could be valid in the specific place I go (Long Island, Suffolk County), though.

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I think using counter for countertop is used throughout the US. It is also referred to as kitchen counter. Many in the US use the term countertop to refer exclusively to the slab that sits upon the lower cupboards that make up the 'counter'. – oosterwal Feb 2 '11 at 2:59
In my case, the word is used to mean the fixture to the sides of the kitchen sink, or the stove. When I ask where the keys are, I am replied they are on the counter, and I discover they are on a fixture to the right of the sink and where the microwave is. – kiamlaluno Feb 2 '11 at 3:09

The counter is a built-in fixture, typically consisting of the countertop (made of stone, sturdy plastic, Formica, or concrete) and the cabinet (made of sheet-metal or wood). In the US, the surface of the counter is almost universally 36" off the floor. It's usually made to measure.

A table is a piece of furniture, generally made entirely of wood (although metal-and-Formica creations are not unknown) and consisting of the tabletop and either legs or a central pedestal. The top surface is about 30" from the floor (comfortable for eating but too low for working from a standing position). A table is generally purchased ready-made from a store that also sells chairs, couches, and other furniture.

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