Sunday, July 22, 2012

bed sizes

British correspondent PurpleClaire was having trouble buying bedding on-line to be used in the US, so she tweeted "what on earth is a full-size bed?" I gave her a tweet-sized answer...but here is a fuller version of the story--with lots of help from Wikipedia.

The short version: the basic sizes for American beds are twin, full, queen, and king, in ascending order. The basic sizes for British beds, respectively, are single, doubleking, and super-king. Single bed and double bed are understood and used in the US, but they are not precise bed sizes there. For example, in AmE I could say that a (AmE) cot/(BrE) camp bed is a 'single bed' (it fits a single person), but not that it's a 'twin bed', because twin is a particular size. Two twins make an AmE king--as one can find to one's back-breaking and love-dampening horror in hotels where they make AmE-king-size beds out of two twins and a king-size sheet. (You said king-size bed! Singular! I want my money back!!)

So, if you buy king-size fitted sheets in one country, they won't work as king-size in the other. Will the other sheets transfer? Probably not exactly.

Here's the relevant part of Wikipedia's table of sizes, with the differences between US and UK highlighted. (Australia is different in other ways--see Wikipedia for the whole story.) Note that double/full are recorded here as the same--but it's a bit tricker than that.


Mattress size (width × length)

N. America[1]
UK/Ireland[3]

Single
Twin (USA)
39in × 75in
0.99 m × 1.91 m

36in × 75in
0.9 m × 1.90 m




Double/full 54in × 75in
1.37 m × 1.91 m

54in × 75in
1.37 m × 1.91 m




Queen
King (UK/Ire.)

60in × 80in
1.52 m × 2.03 m
60in × 78in
1.5 m × 2 m


King
Super King (UK/Ire.)
76in × 80in
1.93 m × 2.03 m

72in × 78in
1.83 m × 1.98 m




California King

72in × 84in
1.83 m × 2.13 m





Much of the rest of the story is told by these handy-dandy diagrams from Wikipedia.  Here's American bed sizes (XL = extra long).


And here are the UK sizes--with an error that needs correcting: the prince size (a term I've never heard in the wild) should be small double (not small single--which is elsewhere in the diagram).


So, sheets for a US full-size should fit a UK double, but only if it's not a funny kind of double. The small double or three quarter is also advertised as a four-foot (or 4ft) bed (or sheet size) (like here).

Of course, if you buy your beds at IKEA, then that's a whole other kettle of Swedish fish.  (Wikipedia has more on other countries' bed sizes as well.)

The UK bed sizes are reflected in housing descriptions. A house or (BrE + San Francisco) flat/(general AmE) apartment will be advertised, for example, with "3 double bedrooms"
or just "3 double rooms". This means 'big enough to fit a double bed'. And it often means just that: big enough to fit a double bed in, but good luck getting a (BrE/general E) bedside table/(AmE) nightstand in there.

There is a lot to say about bed linens beyond the size issues that I've approached here (e.g. pillows!). But in the spirit of trying for more posts rather than longer posts, I'll save that for next time. Or maybe several next times.


35 comments:

Zhoen said...

And, deep pocket fitted sheets, for thick mattresses. I find that queen sheets (US) work just fine for Full (US) mattresses, and the flat (top) sheet goes far enough over the sides - although I could not bounce a quarter (US) off the made bed.

Most US hotels/motels seem to have Queen beds these days.

Thanks for the chart, I never knew what a California king was.

Anonymous said...

Yes pillows are different. So are duvet/quilt sizes, or maybe it's just IKEA, which is probably the only place to get European style duvets anyway (in which case I don't know why they're longer)...
Emma

Picky said...

I was interested by "bed linens". No doubt British English has "linens" meaning a number of different weaves of cloth, but I'm pretty sure our, or at any rate my (London, very aged), plural for sheets and pillow cases and stuff would be "linen".

mollymooly said...

In Ireland I've never heard "twin" as a size, just as an indication that there are two beds in one room. I've never heard "superking" for mattresses, just cigarettes. And the idea that "queensize" is bigger than "kingsize" is something that could only make sense to a chess player.

My personal labels (in increasing size order) are: "narrow single" - single - "wide single" - "small double" - double - queen - king. My impression is that, while bed and sheet makers may have standard labels, those selling houses or renting rooms do not abide by these, so you never know what size of bed or bedroom is being described until you show up with your own tape measure.

Gesci said...

Love this post! I laughed several times and even showed it to my husband. Your description of the size of British bedrooms (e.g. "3 double bedrooms") was spot-on!

Graham said...

In the UK I do not believe these descriptions are still really standardised. I certainly never buy sheets without checking the actual measurements. In fact, I would say all these names (except single, twin, double) are quite recent inventions (in the last 20 years, probably under US influence). Single and double meant an intended usage (and a very gross indication of size). Twin did (and still does as far as I know) just mean that there are two single beds in a room.

When I was a student, I found my bed was 2'6" -- smaller than my 3' bed at home. My parents' double bed was 4', 4'6" was the larger size. Nowadays 4'6" and 5' appear to be the two common sizes.

And, talking of intended usage, many a student has found that a 2'6" single bed can be repurposed for two people if they put their minds to it.

David Crosbie said...

Call me literal but I've always felt that the essential condition of a twin bed is that it is one of an identical pair I've always worked on the assumption that other speakers share this view — and it's never led to serious misunderstanding.

Two very large identical beds in the same room would for me be an unusual set of twin beds. One twin bed is like the sound of one hand clapping.

In my (not very extensive) experience of German hotels, two beds were the norm — separated or pushed together according to the guests' wishes. A single piece of furniture serving as a double bed was called a French bed. I seem to remember that Italians call this a marriage bed.

Retailers sell beds every day and not surprisingly have a fixed and familiar set of terms for sizes. But punters buy beds maybe once in a lifetime. They measure their bedrooms, decide how much of the space they can spare for the bed(s), then see what the store has to offer. The size label is relevant only to the store.

Roger Owen Green said...

After that description, I feel three sheets to the wind.

David Crosbie said...

But punters buy beds maybe once in a lifetime.

I was forgetting that we may quite frequently book hotel rooms, relying on written descriptions. For us the problem is not so much deciphering how hotels describe their bed in detail — but rather their lack of detail. Many rooms offers of a 'double room' refer to the option of twin beds. I'm very heavy and my wife has a bad back; we need to know if there's a twin-bedded room available; it matters. Within reason, the size of the beds is of no concern.

lynneguist said...

Thanks for comments so far. I'll cover the bed linen(s) issue when I do that post.

Yes, in UK one gets 'twin' hotel rooms with two one-person bed--forgot to mention that. But in US it *is* a bed size--named after the fact that you would have two of them in a room, I think. You can see this if you try to shop in US for sheets, as they come in twin, full, etc.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Do they have child-size beds in the USA? They seem popular here, but as my daughter says (we are beginning to think of promoting my grandson to a "big-boy bed" rather than the [BrE]cot he is in at the moment), what is the point? You can't get linen to fit them, and he'll outgrow it by the time he is 8 or 9.

IKEA bed sizes are a law unto themselves!

lynneguist said...

I don't think child-size beds are as popular in the US. You get child beds that are low and shaped like race cars or whatever, but they are usually twin-size. Grover has a toddler-bed--bought from IKEA, sheets from IKEA, which she'll outgrow soon. My nephews went straight to full-size beds--two of them in the room they share, which is an illustration of how much bigger houses/rooms are in my hometown than in my adopted Brighton. We have trouble fitting a wardrobe in the same room with our double bed!

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

You must have an unrepresentatively tiny bedroom - here in London we have plenty of room for two small single beds pushed together and still have dressing-tables, wardrobes, clothes presses etc. My daughter's "master bedroom" is a little smaller, but she still has room for everything necessary.

Mind you, both of us live in flats built in the first half of the 20th Century - I wonder if your house is more recent?

lynneguist said...

Our house is older--a Victorian terrace. But the notion of 'enough room for' is also relative. I find many UK rooms claustrophobic because there is so much furniture in a small space. I am used to a lot of floor space in a room, and not having the furniture shoved against the wall. (Note also that my nephews had two _double beds_--and chests of drawers and toy boxes, and plenty of floor space--and theirs is not the master bedroom.) Three of my 3-bedroom Brighton homes would fit into the 4-bedroom house I grew up in.

David Crosbie said...

Lynne

But in US it *is* a bed size

Time for you to collect some citations and inform the OED. They still say — in ignorance of American usage — this:

twin bed n. one of a pair of matching single beds.

They'll probably listen to you.

Elsajeni said...

In case anyone is interested: in the US, "Twin XL" (as shown in the diagram, the same width as a twin but a few inches longer) is a common size of bed for dormitories, and nowhere else. So no matter what type of bed you've been sleeping on, when you leave for college/university, you'll typically need to buy all new bedding -- and then replace it all again when you move off-campus or graduate.

John Cowan said...

I'd say that double is an exact synonym of full in the U.S., and it's the term I'm familiar with, way more than full.

I had a twin XL bed at home, being rather taller than the average child. As it turned out, I grew only to 6'1" (185 cm), several inches shorter than most of my male relatives.

MM said...

In my Midwestern AmE, I say bedside table or nightstand but have never hear bedstand (and my spellcheck recognized the other but not bedstand just now--perhaps it's regional US).

MM said...

Heard not hear; others not other:(

Anonymous said...

Is "bedstand" American English? Pehaps it varies by location, but I call that a "nightstand." Great post!

Anonymous said...

Oops, MM already made my point. I should have refreshed the comments before I posted. :)

lynneguist said...

MM and Anonymous--you are absolutely right, and I've corrected it. This was the product of it being very late and me thinking "oh, what's that other bedroom furniture difference that I did as a Twitter Difference of the Day'?" and then not thinking straight because my subconscious was calling me to 'bed'. :)

Sean said...

Are Californians really taller?

I recently moved house and the new bed was the same size as my last one. However, when it came to putting the fitted sheets on I found the matress was now thicker and my fitted sheets didn't fit.

Luckily it worries me so much that I can't sleep.

EK said...

American here. Would just like to note that, yes, as Lynne says, twin is a bed size and does not imply that it is one of a pair here in the U.S. And twin size beds with more than one in a room is a rarity in my experience. Hotel rooms with more than one bed have two double (full size) beds or two queen size beds. Dorm rooms have two single beds, but, as noted, they are usually twin XL rather than standard twin.

I personally would take double bed to mean the same as full size bed, to specify that specific size. Except maybe in specific contexts where one might expect a double bed to be smaller (like in a trailer).

flatlander said...

We (in USA) have a toddler bed for our 4-year-old and use twin sheets that don't fit correctly but are close enough. The bed frame is 50+ years old -- it was my mother-in-law's -- but the mattress was new when the bed was given to us, so apparently someone still makes them.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say bedstand is common American English, but it certainly isn't unheard of. My mother, who is in her early 70s, says it. She grew up in Salt Lake City, and her parents were non-English speaking immigrants so she must have gotten it from teachers or school.

biochemist said...

Thank goodness I read this before setting up a borrowed futon for visitors! It seems there is huge variation in their sizes too. I was given a fitted sheet for a Habitat futon 1.2m wide, but this mattress is 1.4m - so I need to look for a fitted sheet in UK 'double bed' size.

None of this mattered before we had fitted sheets, but now we know how simple it can be to make a bed, rather than using unwieldy flat sheets, we want everything to fit snugly and neatly.

médecin Libre said...

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Anonymous said...

Lynne, on another note, I do hear "flat" used in San Francisco, but not interchangeably with "apartment." In SF a "flat" is a full-floor apartment in a converted house. Everything else in SF is an "apartment."

Amanda P. said...

There are child sized beds in the US, but they seem to be primarily as part of a "4 in one" bed set - as in a crib (cot?) that can turn into a toddler bed (same size mattress, but with a shorter, half to 3/4 width railing on the front side in place of the front edge of the crib), that can then turn into a (short) daybed (toddler bed with no front rail) and then into a full sized bed (with the long sides of the crib becoming the head and footboards of the full bed).

I do have to say that the 2 twin/single beds pushed together to form a King bed is VERY disconcerting, and quite unexpected when you run across it for the first time on your honeymoon....

Lili said...

I've also heard "bedstand" in the US...and also grew up in Salt Lake. Maybe there needs to be a "Utah English" website (in addition to "Utah Baby Names").

Valerie said...

I'm groaning here, because we've just been through the challenging process of bringing our Cal King mattress over from the States, and then trying to find a bed base not only to fit but which will go up the stairs of our tiny Victorian cottage. We finally found one at Ikea (Superking) which had to be built upstairs (two single beds bracketed together). Five hours later (!) it is usable, but six inches too short. We are coping. It also entirely fills the bedroom and we have to squeeze around it. (Sigh.) But finally we're not sleeping on the floor anymore, so that's a blessing!

dmf said...

I wonder if "bedstand" came from a combination of "nightstand" and "bedside". Only because I've heard both of the latter, but not the former...

David Crosbie said...

I looked up bed-stand in the online OED. Most unhelpfully, it's mentioned without either definition or quotation.

However, I stumbled on something much more interesting. Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom's Cabin wrote:

A tattered blanket..formed his only bed-clothing.

flatlander said...

Sorry, I meant youth bed. The 4-year-old has a youth bed. The toddler bed was what the crib converted into.