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Is there any difference between the two?

Which one is more common?

Which of the two words is more appropriate if the "piece of furniture" is big, comfortable and expensive?

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    You could also have a look at settee. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 20:50
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    Hey, don't forget davenport! It probably comes from a city in Eastern Iowa, on the Mississippi River, which was famous at one time for manufacturing sofas, couches, settees, etc. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 23:28
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    Now this Family Guy clip makes a bit more sense.
    – yoozer8
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 1:15
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    A sofa is something you intentionally sleep on. A couch is something you wake up on with a bad hangover. Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 0:11
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    @EdwinAshworth But sofa surfing has a nice alliteration.
    – bib
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 18:38

8 Answers 8

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They are effectively interchangeable in the US.

A Google ngram of the terms shows that in the US, couch was slightly more common until the middle of the 19th century, and the usage has been almost equal since then, with a very slight favoring of couch.

The ngram for British usage shows a similar pattern with equal usage kicking in about 1930 and a slight favoring of sofa currently.

Searches of the websites of two major US retailers of furniture (Macy's and Pottery Barn) for sofa and couch yield identical results in the number of hits, but the text describing the products tend to use sofa.

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  • accepted for market research Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 20:20
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Though the two words are usually used interchangeably in everyday speech, there is a slight difference. Couches are typically armless, while sofas are not, and the distinction comes from their respective historical uses. Depending on the attributes of the furniture that you are referring to, it could either be a couch or a sofa.

If you'd like, you can refer to http://www.homedit.com/what%E2%80%99s-the-difference-between-sofa-and-couch/ for more information.

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    That's funny, I would have said the opposite, couches have arms and sofas might not. To me a couch has that typical "loveseat" shape and style, while sofas are generally larger/more plush.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 19:10
  • I would recommend that you include the most relevant information from the website, which has some interesting notes on the origin of couch and sofa and include that in your answer, you can use the blockquotes.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 22:23
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"Couch" is an older word, and means something more bed-like, from the French word "coucher", to lie down. More similar to a chaise lounge.

"Sofa" is more bench-like, from the Arabic word "suffah", meaning bench.

Traditionally, a couch has only the head end raised, and only half a back; a sofa has both ends raised and a full back.

Apparently, one can buy a "sofa couch" at Macy's:

http://www1.macys.com/cms/slp/2/Sofa-Couch

Sources:
http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=couch
http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=sofa

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  • And this is copied almost verbatim from the link which Jocelyn Huang posted. Naughty!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 22:20
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    And Jocelyn's link is almost verbatim from etymonline.com . I wonder which was first? Either way, added my source. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 23:42
  • No doubt etymonline. One up-vote from me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 23:50
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In Britain when I was young we had a couch but these days sofa seems to have taken over, and includes all sizes, with arms and without. Couch now sounds more formal to me, eg a psychiatrist's couch. Sofa-beds are also common, ie sofas which unfold/pull out to make beds for guests, whereas you don't hear of couch-beds. On the other hand you get couch potatoes not sofa potatoes.

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    You don't hear "couch-bed", but you do hear both "pull-out couch" and "pull-out sofa" (in my experience, couch is more common for this use)
    – yoozer8
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 1:17
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I live in Western Canada, and here the words couch and sofa are in practical use, synonyms. I have older relatives who even still use the word chesterfield, although that word is decidedly more quaint and archaic.

This might be just me, but to my ear, couch is the slightly more informal of the two words. Sofa would be used if the piece of furniture is particularly more ostentatious, expensive or plush.

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  • Looking at this dialoge from “Life, the Universe and Everything”, it seems that a Chesterfield is a special kind of sofa: "So, not very like this current instance. For those of you who've just tuned in, you may be interested to know that, er... two men, two rather scruffily attired men, and indeed a sofa - a Chesterfield I think?" "Yes, a Chesterfield." "Have just materialised here in the middle of Lord's Cricket Ground. But I don't think they meant any harm, they've been very good-natured about it, and..."
    – Carsten S
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 22:49
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    @CarstenSchultz Yes, this is a chesterfield. However, in the early 1900s in the area I live it was common to call all couches "chesterfields" just as in the deep south all soda pops are "cokes".
    – ghoppe
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 2:53
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Both terms can be used interchangeably; however in former times, a couch was a low, bed-like piece of furniture for lying on. A sofa is more benchlike with full arms and back.

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  • You seem to have triggered ELU's spam-alert, Amelia. I think there should be a very special hat (the ultimate accolade here) for accomplishing this feat. Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 11:33
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Professional interior designers tend to use "sofa" whereas the general public seems to be more comfortable with the word "couch". You will notice that nearly all retailers will use the word "sofa", as this is the accepted term in the industry.

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  • Please bear in mind that terminology differs between different English-speaking countries. Which country are you referring to in your answer? Personally, I wouldn't say that "the general public seems to be more comfortable with the word 'couch'" in the UK. I note that the questioner is from Germany.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 0:31
  • See newmanandbright.co.uk/blog/difference-between-couch-and-sofa where they say that sofa seems to be used by more upper class people! Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 19:11
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The word couch originally referred to some sort of structure covered with material which was used for sleeping or resting. Sources EVS Translations The word sofa originally referred to the place where the grand vizier or the pasha was sitting. Source: EVS Word of the Day: Sofa Sofa and couch were more or less equally used in Great Britain and the USA until the 1960s. Since then sofa is more or a British word, couch tends to be used in the USA.

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