apartment vs. flat

IceJB

Senior Member
Mandarin
Quote: He had gained two apartments and one requisitioned flat in Berlin.

Question: When I studied English from teachers of non-native speakers, they never pointed out differences between these two words. So how can I make a difference?

Source: The Latehomecomer by Mavis Gallant, a short story from her collection ‘Paris Stories’, which you can find in Google Books by the title Paris Stories. (This sentence is located at Paragraph 2 from bottom, Page 63.)

Thanks to whoever can help!
 
  • IceJB

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    They mean the same thing generally. Apartment is USE, flat is BrE.

    There are some differences in BrE now, with apartment being used for some some expensive flats.
    Thank you Smauler! So here it is a case of rephrasing. (how do you call it when using B word to substitute A for a change?)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    There are many previous threads:
    Nevertheless, I find the use of both words in one sentence very strange. Mavis Gallant was Canadian, so perhaps we need to know if the words have different meanings in Canadian English. There's a dated BE usage in which an apartment is a single room, and there is also the original meaning of apartment: a suite of rooms set aside for the use of a particular person - as was customary , for example, in royal palaces. However, I don't understand the distinction between flat and apartment being made in this story.

    I think the usage that Smauler refers to is more estate agent English than normal BE. :)
     

    IceJB

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Nevertheless, I find the use of both words in one sentence very strange. Mavis Gallant was Canadian, so perhaps we need to know if the words have different meanings in Canadian English. There's a dated BE usage in which an apartment is a single room, and there is also the original meaning of apartment: a suite of rooms set aside for the use of a particular person - as was customary , for example, in royal palaces. However, I don't understand the distinction between flat and apartment being made in this story.
    I think the usage that Smauler refers to is more estate agent English than normal BE. :)
    Andygc, it makes sense to point out the author's nationality. And I'd add that Mavis' father was an English immigrant to Canada. If you'd like to check another thread I posted about <bathroom>and <toilet>, which was closed to avoid redundancy of similar topics, you might probably have something to say in this line of thinking. I mean, the narrator who used <bathroom> and <toilet> in one sentence is descendant of a Scottish family who emigrated to Canada.

    In this particular story, however, I'm not sure if we should consider the author Mavis' Canadian English (with some BrE twist?) to analyze the words, or consider the narrator's identity, who is a German young man just returning home from a camp of P.O.W. after WW2.
     

    IceJB

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Andygc, it makes sense to point out the author's nationality. And I'd add that Mavis' father was an English immigrant to Canada. If you'd like to check another thread I posted about <bathroom>and <toilet>, which was closed to avoid redundancy of similar topics, you might probably have something to say in this line of thinking. I mean, the narrator who used <bathroom> and <toilet> in one sentence is descendant of a Scottish family who emigrated to Canada.

    In this particular story, however, I'm not sure if we should consider the author Mavis' Canadian English (with some BrE twist?) to analyze the words, or consider the narrator's identity, who is a German young man just returning home from a camp of P.O.W. after WW2.
    Just to add one more line, the story from which the sentence is quoted, The Latehomecomer, was probably first published in the New Yorker in 1974.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Of the threads listed in post #4, probably the most relevant and useful for this context is flat and apartment.

    The story was published in 1974, but the era in which the story is set may be decisive. In the linked thread there is talk of an earlier distinction in meaning between the two terms.
     
    Last edited:

    IceJB

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Of the threads listed in post #4, probably the most relevant and useful for this context is flat and apartment.

    The story was published in 1974, but the era in which the story is set may be decisive. In the linked thread there is talk of an earlier distinction in meaning between the two terms.
    Thank you velisarius. After reading through it, I'm settled with the notion that a 'flat' refers to the entire floor of a building.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you velisarius. After reading through it, I'm settled with the notion that a 'flat' refers to the entire floor of a building.
    However, it does not have that meaning in BE, and after reading that thread it's also questionable that the majority of AE speakers would understand that meaning.
     

    IceJB

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    However, it does not have that meaning in BE, and after reading that thread it's also questionable that the majority of AE speakers would understand that meaning.
    Do you think it's just to avoid repetition, Andy, so that flat=apartment?
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Do you think it's just to avoid repetition, Andy, so that flat=apartment?
    I really don't know. The words must have diferent meanings to the writer. My point was not that she didn't intend flat to mean an apartment taking the whole floor, but that BE readers wouldn't understand that and neither would a proportion of North Americans.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    On page 52 is the first mention of "He had inherited two furnished apartments..." followed by some description of their history then "Martin intended to modernize the two flats...". The words seem interchangeably used there. Both are used extensively in the book (33 apartments, 13 flat (as noun)) , with no obvious indication of specificity.
     

    IceJB

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    On page 52 is the first mention of "He had inherited two furnished apartments..." followed by some description of their history then "Martin intended to modernize the two flats...". The words seem interchangeably used there. Both are used extensively in the book (33 apartments, 13 flat (as noun)) , with no obvious indication of specificity.
    Wow good research! Thank you Julian.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thanks Julian. I found that interesting too. If one had to distinguish between flat and apartment in BE, I'd say that 'apartment' sounds much more elegant than 'flat'. One reason for this is that the British have a higher proportion of home ownership than many European countries, with the aspiration being to own a house with a garden.

    Unless the person is young or single or living in London, most people would have wondered why someone was living in a (rented) 'flat'. It would have suggested they were too poor to afford a house. A lot of social housing is flats because it's cheaper to house people when land is scarce. Another reason for 'apartment' sounding more glamorous is that it's the term used in France and often in the USA.

    If I wanted to suggest a difference betweeen the quality and status of the properties, I might well choose to use 'flat' for the requisitioned place. It certainly seems that this author's choice is arbitrary.

    Of course, I live in an apartment which was very expensive, with a lift, a garage and a large balcony, overlooking a park but only a few minutes walk from bus and rail transport and a large shopping centre.:D

    Hermione
     
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