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I understand the difference between cabinet and cupboard.

However, I have spent part of my life redoing houses and I have only ever heard of kitchen cabinets. In fact if I order "cabinets" the stores and manufacturers refer to them as kitchen cabinets.

I do remember my grandparents using the term cupboards when younger but never hear it anymore in the US. Is the term cupboard outdated? I would like to know if it has any usage.

[This question stems from me traveling in Europe the past few weeks. All non-native English speakers were taught cupboards.]

Just to give the most uncupboard type example. Something like the picture below was called a cupboard in three different countries over the past week. Trying to be really specific here. I am wondering if this is an actual term used, or if it is a term from books that were outdated used to teach English.

An ultra-modern kitchen with upper and lower cabinets, a peninsula, and a TV between two tall pantry cabinets. Everything in the kitchen is built-in, i.e. attached to the wall and not moveable.

To add some of my background I went to the three biggest home improvement store sites (in the US) for some insight.

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    With kitchen units, you buy a cabinet. Once it's assembled and on the wall, it's a cupboard. – Andrew Leach May 3 '14 at 22:19
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    @AndrewLeach - I have never heard of that and I am in the industry. I buy cabinets, install cabinets, and after you enjoy your cabinets. – RyeɃreḁd May 3 '14 at 22:22
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    'I understand the difference between the two words and it was answered here.' I've just read the link, and think that the answers don't agree. The terms are doubtless used in overlapping ways, and differently in different regions (or even say antiques establishments). In the UK, I'd say that 'cabinet' is reserved for some specialist examples (bathroom cabinet) and valuable antiques (Louis XVIII cabinet). A sideboard will usually have 'cupboards', and almost all built-in examples will be 'cupboards'. – Edwin Ashworth May 3 '14 at 22:27
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    @AmeliaBR - Interesting. We use both words in our house (midwestern US), but the freestanding units (like this one) are always cupboards, and never cabinets. The built-in units might get called by either name. – J.R. May 4 '14 at 2:16
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    I believe that Old Mother Hubbard's house did not contain any cabinets, whereas Dr. Caligari's laboratory lacked cupboards. – Sven Yargs May 6 '14 at 4:05
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+50

Where in the world are cabinets more often referred to as cupboards? In the world of ESL (English as a second language).

I teach English to private students in my spare time and in all the textbooks I have in my possession, be it for nursery school children or adults who are taking advanced level exams, the piece of furniture that the OP refers to as cabinet, is rarely mentioned. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen the word cabinet in any ESL textbook.

Instead, it's cupboards (unless it's a trophy cabinet); wardrobes (never closets); sofas (never couches); and bedroom or kitchen dressers (never hutches) etc. This might well explain why the non-native speakers in Europe were all familiar with the term cupboard but not with cabinet.

Edit 1
And I confirm @Dan Sheppard's statement that the above linked terms are standard British English terms.


Edit 2

I scanned this page from an English coursebook with its accompanying picture. It's taken from Elementary New Headway English Course by Liz and John Soars; published by Oxford University Press. This edition is dated 2000

"What's in the Kitchen" page from an ESL textbook. There's a picture of a man and a woman standing in a standard western kitchen, complete with range, range hood, and butcher-block kitchen table/island. The conversation includes the lines "Well, it's not very big, but there ___ a ___ of cupboards." and "But what's *in* all these cupboards?"

Headway was first published in 1986 as a two-level course and its integrated syllabus, explicit grammar rules and user-friendliness made it work equally well in the hands of both experienced and novice teachers. Now in its fourth edition, its continuing popularity has resulted in 70 million copies sold and it is estimated that more than 100 million students in secondary schools, tertiary and teacher training institutions in 127 countries have learned English using the course.


Edit 3

Not all kitchen cupboards in the UK or for that matter in ESL textbooks are like the ones shown in the image above. There is another type of cupboard, the tall freestanding unit containing shelves complete with one or more doors. In New English File Elementary by Oxford University Press, 2008, there is an exercise where you have to match the words with the pictures.

A page from a textbook showing a cutaway view of an apartment. Various objects are labeled with numbers, and the numbers are explained in a list on the left. Item 12 is a tall narrow cabinet with legs, a single large door, and one drawer at the bottom. The key for item 12 says "a cupboard /'kʌbəd/".

Take note that AmEng terms such as; stove/range, faucet, couch/loveseat, and cabinets=cupboards, are rarely found in British English coursebooks nor taught to learners. In my experience Italians tend to be taught English by non-native speakers who were themselves taught exclusively in British English. The ubiquitous AmEng terms such as: candy, cookies, (french) fries, soccer, elevator, and truck, might be taught alongside sweets, biscuits, chips, football, lift and lorry but strangely enough, AmEng named furniture is normally excluded and I don't really know why. Generally speaking, the teaching of furniture vocabulary is relegated at elementary levels and rarely revised or expanded at higher levels.

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    All of these ESL usages are also the standard usages in British English. – Dan Sheppard May 4 '14 at 21:07
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    thekitchendresser.co.uk/furniture/kitchen-dressers, the links are all Google images. I was pointing out that the term, hutches, is very unusual in BrEng. Yes, you have bedroom dressers where you put garments but also kitchen ones for cups, plates, cutlery (flatware) etc. – Mari-Lou A May 5 '14 at 0:17
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    @Mari-Lou A: I think I've worked out you're British but living in Italy. As you also teach, you won't have gone round many National Trust properties – you don't have the time. The term 'cabinet' (when not handcuffed to 'bathroom' or 'display') has a cachet that 'cupboard' usually doesn't have, so anything worth over say 10 000 sterling automatically seems to become a cabinet. To confuse the issue, antique experts argue over whether 'court cupboards' are allowed to have any enclosed compartments. – Edwin Ashworth May 5 '14 at 0:48
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    @Mari-LouA - This is really good insight. I don't care what they are called. I just have done a lot of work in the industry and have never heard of them referred to as cupboards anywhere in the US. When someone says cupboard to me I think of something old/wooden or something that looks like a hutch. I didn't know it was carried over for modern kitchen "cabinets". All of the people I spoke to learned English through their work. Where they would have English classes as part of their work routine until they hit a certain level (finance fields). – RyeɃreḁd May 5 '14 at 8:23
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    This answer appears to be off-topic as it's a thinly veiled attempt to sell us all a new kitchen. Or a few cupboards. Or some fake verbenas. Or a set of Headway English. Or a pseudo-sarcastic rabbit. – Edwin Ashworth May 6 '14 at 13:59
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In Ireland, especially among the older generation, where these cabinets actually were used to hold cups, they're called cupboards. A quick Google.ie search for "cupboards" results in a range of listings for furniture retailers selling "cupboards" rather than "cabinets", although "press" is probably the most common term for these.

The popular Paddywhackery website Irish Central also uses "cupboard" listed in its Top Ten words the Irish use that confuse Americans as a means of explaining what a "Hotpress" is. Although I think the use of cupboard may just confuse the Americans further.

Hotpress

Again, this seems totally logical to the Irish mind. The hotpress is the airing cupboard where you might store sheets and towels, located next to the boiler. So therefore it is a press (cupboard) which is hot.

  • "press" is also used in the north-east of England, by my 80 year old mother, for example. – Phil M Jones Dec 11 '14 at 10:04
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Australia - cupboard is far more commonly used, especially when referring to one that is built in to a house, rather than free standing.

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If you type 'buy cupboard' into google, you will find a very large number of results with the .co.uk suffix. You will find cupboard in use anywhere British English is the dominant form of English. This statement is supported by the answers of @Ronan and @user3217790 who confirm its usage in Ireland and Australia respectively, where British English is spoken, not American.

protected by tchrist Sep 24 '15 at 14:08

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