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Sofa or Couch – What’s the Difference?

A family sitting on a sofa and a woman lounging on a couch.

November 2023


The terms “sofa” and “couch” are used interchangeably in everyday language, but they refer to two different pieces of furniture. The distinction between the two is not just in name alone. It extends to their design, historical origins, and the context in which they’re used. And while it’s perfectly fine to use the names interchangeably, understanding why they are different can help with your furniture and décor decisions and your furniture shopping.

Historical Origins

The word “sofa” comes from the Arabic word “suffah,” which describes a wooden bench that is covered in cushions and blankets. Historically, sofas are considered more formal seating and have been a part of furniture ensembles since ancient times, found in the households of the elite and the aristocracy.

On the other hand, the term “couch” has its origins in the French word “coucher,” which means “to lie down.” This points to the couch’s primary function as a piece of furniture for reclining and relaxing. Couches often don’t have arms and historically, some didn’t even have backs.

Design Differences

Sofas are typically designed to seat more people than couches. They will have a uniform back and armrests at both ends. They are often larger and more structured than couches. And their primary role is to provide comfortable seating for several people at once.

In comparison, couches typically don’t have armrests and are generally smaller than sofas. They offer a more casual seating option and are designed with the idea of lounging or lying down in mind. The design of a couch is often more relaxed, sometimes even lounge-like, making it a perfect fit for informal settings.


When it comes to functionality, sofas are usually found in formal living rooms or areas where the primary purpose is to offer seating for multiple guests. They are the furniture of choice for hosting, entertaining, or for any occasion where comfortable and ample seating is required.

Couches, with their more laid-back design, are well-suited for casual family rooms or areas where relaxation and comfort are more important than] formalities. They are ideal for an individual or a small group to recline, read, watch TV, or take a nap.

Décor Implications

The sofa is often seen as a symbol of status and sophistication, while the couch is associated with comfort and relaxation. This is apparent in the way that furniture companies advertise each. Sofas are typically shown as a centerpiece of a refined living space, and couches as a cozy spot for family gatherings.

When to Use Each

Choosing between a sofa and a couch depends largely on the intended use of the space. For a more formal living room where you will entertain guests, a sofa is the appropriate choice. It provides ample seating and conveys a sense of formality and order.

For a casual living room where comfort is the priority, a couch is more suitable. It offers a relaxed environment for lounging and informal gatherings.

At Elmwood Manor, we love it when our residents put careful thought into designing and personalizing their apartments and townhomes. We believe that having a place that fits your unique style and needs means having a place that feels like home.