Today I learnt that in American English, roommate can mean two people who share the same apartment unit but have different bedrooms, as well as people who share the same bedroom.

How do people using American English distinguish between the two scenarios?

(In case people think I'm joking about unrelated people sharing bedrooms, unfortunately not. For example, the Australian classifieds website Gumtree has different categories for flatshare and roomshare. Most of the time, we don't live in caravans in industrial parks)

  • There is no social distinction, so no need for a term for one or the other— a measure of adulthood is simply living alone. But nowadays, it is somewhat unusual for two unrelated and romantically uninvolved adults to share a bedroom in the U.S., even in Manhattan and S.F. and other high-rent locales— even in university dorms. I know many undergraduates who have not only never had to share a bedroom with a sibling, but have never had to share a bathroom, either.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 20:39
  • It's not just being spoiled; consider also that in the city, a roommate oftentimes is not a friend, but someone from the gym or from Craigslist. The shared one-bedrooms I've seen usually involve converting the dining room, den, or living room into a faux second bedroom, because it's easier to find a roommate who will suffer a noisy, drafty space that may not have a window or a real door than it is to find a stranger who will split a bedroom with you.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


You're right. In American English, the term "roommate" only means that two unrelated people share the same address, the same residence, not the same room.

Here are some other related words that you would hear in America:

bunkmate: a person who shares the same sleeping quarters (oddly, people who share the same room still more often call each other roommate rather than bunkmate)(bunkmate tends to refer to either temporary sleeping quarters or the military)

housemate: a person who shares the same house (used for referring to living in houses, not apartments or flats)

cellmate: a person who shares the same prison cell

suitemate: a person with whom ones shares a suite, as in a college dorm; roommate; also, a person with whom ones shares an office suite

wallmate: a person who shares the same residence whose room is directly adjacent but not part of the same suite. (often used to describe dormitory living where two adjacent rooms don't share a single bathroom between)

flatmate: British. Americans don't tend to use this term since Americans don't tend to call apartments "flats." Americans don't commonly say "apartmentmate."

  • 1
    Really? As an AmE speaker, I thought it was literal, roommates share a room, and living in the same apartment in different rooms means they are not roommates.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 14:45
  • When I was in college, I lived in an apartment with my best friend, Tony, but we did not share a bedroom. I called him "my roommate" and still call him "my college roommate." That same friend, when he lived in the dorms, lived with my friend Steve. He and Steve were roommates, even though their dorm was configured such that each had a separate bedroom within a suite. Roommate only insinuates sleeping in the same room in situations where there is only one room to be had. If one wants to make the clarification of sleeping in the same room, one says, "I/he/she/they share a room." Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 9:17

In the US, it's very rare that outside of dormitories and children sharing a room with siblings, that people sleep together in the same room without being romantic or sexual partners. However, it is quite common to refer to two people sharing an apartment in separate rooms as apartment mates.

From the University of Indiana South Bend website:


This Apartment-mate Agreement allows you and your apartment-mates to discuss potential issues and develop compromises for the common space in your apartment.

From the North Carolina State University website:


Steps to Resolve Roommate Conflict 1.Speak to your roommate/suitemate/apartment mate directly. Review and discuss the Roommate/Suite/Apartment Agreement that was completed. State issues neutrally. Relate/discuss feelings. Offer resolutions. Be prepared to listen and to compromise.

And from Urban Dictionary:

apartment mate people living within the apartment but not in your same room.

  • As the group house is a common arrangement for young professionals in some metro areas— and that is the term whether the "house" is a single-family home, apartment, rowhouse, etc.— housemate is another possibility.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 20:41
  • "Housemate" works when sharing a house, but in the context of an apartment, it's a little inaccurate. Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:00
  • @choster--Be careful; a group HOME is a facility for people who are incapable of living without assistance; they are developmentally disabled. I've never heard of a group HOUSE. Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 19:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.