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]

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

King (UK/Ire.)

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

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. But in the spirit of trying for more posts rather than longer posts, I'll save that for next time.

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a personal note

I have a proper blog post planned, but I felt like writing this first.

I took a break from blogging and tweeting for a bit because my mom died after an extremely short and unexpected illness. It just so happened that I was already on my way to visit her in the US when she fell ill, which was the only thing that could be considered a piece of luck in this whole horrid experience.

I've gone back and forth about whether to say anything about this here because I really don't want to read more sympathy messages--as kind and heartfelt as they might be. Thanks for thinking them, if you're thinking them. That's plenty. I've closed the comments on this post in order to remove the temptation.

But if you like what I do here, please give my mom some credit for it. She was an elementary/primary school teacher who loved words and who supported me in my education and who was proud of what I do with it. (She sometimes turned up on this blog for her observations and opinions on BrE and her foreign son-in-law's use of it.) She was also a fantastic contributor to her community and beyond--as a non-stop volunteer (particularly at our local hospital, where she spent more than 3000 hours of her retirement transporting patients) and a contributor to just causes. 

So, if you would like to hono(u)r my mother for her role in making this blog possible (or if you'd just like to hono(u)r my mother), I ask you to pay it forward by doing something good for other people that you might not have done otherwise. There is a new scholarship fund in my mom's name for students from my old high school who want to pursue education or medical degrees, and I could tell you how to contribute to that if you sent me an email. But since you probably don't know my hometown, that doesn't seem like the most relevant thing for you to do, and there are many, many good people-helping causes out there in the world. So, if you could spend a bit of your time or money on supporting one, then that would be a wonderful tribute. I don't really need (or want, actually) to know what you choose to do with this request. I just want to be able to believe that something good is happening somewhere.

Thanks for reading to the end! Regular (that is to say, irregular) blogging will resume shortly.  In the meantime, here are posts that use the words 'mom' and 'my mother'--i.e. the ones in which I've talked about my mom, plus a few stragglers with those words, but not my mom.
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)