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Flat vs. Apartment: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 13, 2023
"Flat" and "apartment" both refer to a self-contained housing unit with its own kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping area, but "flat" is commonly used in British English and "apartment" in American English.

Key Differences

The term "flat" typically conveys a sense of British cultural context when discussing dwelling spaces. British people often utilize "flat" to describe a place of residence that comprises a series of rooms on one level of a building. Contrarily, "apartment" is pervasive in American English, embodying the cultural and linguistic practices in the United States. Both words connote a similar conceptual space but are situated in different linguistic territories.
In the UK, a "flat" may be perceived as a typical, standard term for describing a residential unit in a building, especially in urban areas. On the other hand, in the USA, "apartment" is a familiar term, frequently used to describe various types of multi-family dwellings, showcasing the norm in American English. It is notable that while the spaces they describe are very similar, their utilization is deeply embedded in regional dialects.
Interestingly, the usage of "flat" in the UK and "apartment" in the US is so deeply entrenched that utilizing the alternate word might lead to a perception of foreignness. Someone in London asking about "apartments" for rent might be immediately identified as an American, just as a person in New York inquiring about "flats" might be perceived as British. It's a subtle, yet revealing linguistic discrepancy that underscores regional vernacular.
In some cases, you might hear the word "apartment" being used in British English and "flat" in American English, especially in specialized or formal contexts. However, these instances are usually exceptions to the common vernacular and might be employed for particular emphasis or stylistic choices. The predominant use of "flat" in Britain and "apartment" in America remains a notable distinction between the two dialects.
Although "flat" and "apartment" are synonymous and convey similar residential contexts, they symbolize the rich, divergent linguistic landscapes of the UK and the USA. Both terms, while interrelated in meaning, are distinct markers of the cultural and linguistic environment in which they are utilized, demonstrating the varied expressions of English around the globe.

Comparison Chart

Common Usage

British English
American English


Old Norse "flatr"
Latin "appartare"

Colloquial Context

More common in the UK
More common in the US

Associated Culture


Global Understanding

May be understood globally
Widely recognized worldwide

Flat and Apartment Definitions


In music, flat means to lower a pitch by a half step.
The singer’s voice sounded more haunting when she sang the note as a B flat.


The term apartment can denote a suite of rooms forming one residence, typically in a building containing a number of these.
His apartment consists of one bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom.


Flat can describe an even and smooth surface.
The lake was eerily flat, reflecting the moon perfectly.


An apartment refers to a self-contained housing unit that occupies part of a building.
My apartment is on the third floor of the building.


Flat, as an adverb, can mean squarely or directly.
He hit the nail flat on the head with the hammer.


In American English, apartment broadly indicates rental housing.
She rented an apartment in the city center.


In British English, a flat refers to a set of rooms for living in, usually on one floor of a building.
She just moved into a new flat closer to her workplace.


"Apartment" may also imply a luxurious or upscale residential unit.
The celebrity resides in a lavish penthouse apartment.


In informal language, flat can mean absolutely or completely.
He was flat broke after investing in the failed business venture.


In historical contexts, apartments could refer to rooms or suites in a palace.
The royal apartments were situated on the top floor of the palace.


Having a smooth, even surface
A flat field.


A room or suite of rooms designed as a residence and generally located in a building occupied by more than one household.


Having a relatively broad level surface in relation to thickness or depth
A flat box.


An apartment building
A row of high-rise apartments.


Is "flat" British English?

Yes, "flat" is commonly used in British English.

Does "flat" imply a single-level dwelling?

Usually, yes, a "flat" typically refers to a single-level dwelling.

What is a “studio apartment”?

A studio apartment is a single-room apartment with a combined living, sleeping, and kitchen area.

Are "flats" only found in buildings?

Primarily, yes, "flats" usually refer to units within larger buildings.

Are “flat” and “apartment” synonyms?

Generally, yes, but regional language norms influence their common usage.

What does a "garden apartment" refer to?

A garden apartment is often a ground-level apartment with access to a garden or yard.

Is "apartment" more common in American English?

Yes, "apartment" is predominantly used in American English.

Can "flat" and "apartment" be used interchangeably?

Generally, yes, but usage may depend on regional vernacular.

Can an "apartment" be in a house?

Yes, an "apartment" can be a self-contained unit within a larger house.

What is a "studio flat"?

A studio flat is similar to a studio apartment, offering living, sleeping, and kitchen spaces in one room.

What does "two-bedroom apartment" mean?

A two-bedroom apartment has two bedrooms in addition to living and kitchen spaces.

Can a flat be part of a house?

Yes, a flat can be a self-contained unit within a larger house.

Is a "penthouse" a type of apartment?

Yes, a "penthouse" is a luxury apartment typically on the uppermost floor(s) of a building.

Are all rental units in the US called apartments?

Predominantly yes, though there are other terms like "condo" for certain ownership models.

Are apartments always for rent?

Typically, yes, but “apartment” can also describe condominium units.

Are flats more commonly rented or owned?

Both, flats can be rented or owned, depending on the context.

Can “apartment” refer to a luxury dwelling?

Yes, “apartment” can refer to various dwelling types, including luxury units.

Is "flat" used in American English?

It's understood but not commonly used in everyday American vernacular.

Can “flat” imply a type of shoe in English?

Yes, “flat” can also refer to a type of low-heeled shoe.

Do all apartments have kitchens?

Typically, yes, apartments generally include a kitchen area.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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