After a long day, there are few things more satisfying than kicking off your shoes and swan-diving into a piece of upholstered furniture. But is that piece of upholstered furniture a sofa or a couch? Let’s find out.
The term “couch” comes from the French word “coucher,” which means “to lie down.” The word “sofa,” on the other hand, comes from the Arabic word “suffah,” which refers to a wooden bench covered in blankets.
The origins of the words point to the major differentiator between the two pieces of furniture: couches are comfort-forward, and sofas are design-forward.
In earlier times, couches were smaller than sofas, and typically had no arms—though today’s couches can both be big and have arms. In modern-day usage, it’s really more about the way you’re using the piece of furniture, or how you’re referring to it—“couch” is a more casual term, while “sofa” is more formal and proper. (And according to Elle Décor, the term “sofa” is more common in the interior-design industry.)
So are you lying down on it? Call it a couch. Are you only allowed to sit on it on special occasions? Sofa. Shoving Doritos in your mouth while watching college basketball on it? Couch. Laundering your clothes before you step within three feet of it? Sofa.