I am learning English a foreign language and I was wondering if anybody here could help me out denoting the difference between three expressions below?

Buy a house

Buy a home

Buy a building

5 Answers 5


"Building" is a general term for any sort of structure that is built by people, is large enough for people to enter and that is basically routed to the ground in some way and expected to remain indefinitely. A house, an office building, a warehouse, a storage shed, would all be considered "buildings".

A "house" is a specific kind of building, one intended for a single person, a family, or some other small group of people to live in. A building that is primarily intended for commercial use would not be called a house. If it is divided into sections and many different people and families live there, it is an "apartment building".

A "home" is where a person lives. For many, their home is a house, but that isn't necessary the case. For many others, their home is an apartment or a military barracks. Another person's home may be a tent. Some truck drivers live in their trucks, so that is their home. Etc.

There's a common phrase in English, "to make a house a home", meaning, to take the house that you have bought and turn it into a pleasant place to live.

  • 2
    "Apartment building" is a typically American English term; a British English equivalent would be "block of flats". Commented May 6, 2014 at 15:50
  • @SteveMelnikoff Good point. I humbly concede that I should point out the British English versus real English (you know, American English), at least when I know it.
    – Jay
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 19:12
  • My American English native ear feels funny hearing a storage shed called a "building". I would refer to it simply as a "structure". Maybe this is regional?
    – leoger
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 19:57
  • I don't know that it's regional, but it's definitely ambiguous. Do a Google Image Search for "storage shed", I'm sure some you would consider to be buildings, and some you would not.
    – Jason
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 20:06
  • @leoger Hmm, I have no trouble calling a storage shed a "building". Sure, it's a very small building. But I concede I do question if you'd call an outhouse a "building". Or a gazebo. Or a dog house. I'd note that realtors routinely refer to small structures, like sheds and garages, as "outbuildings". As in, "There are two outbuildings on the property: a garage and a storage shed."
    – Jay
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 13:33

If you buy a house, you are probably buying what will be your future home.

A building is a generic term for a construction that may be both for residential or commercial use.

A home is the place (house, apartment etc) where you usually live.


The other answers are correct, but it's probably more useful to talk more about the context in which you would use each phrase.

Buy a home - if I said I just bought a home, that would mean I just bought a new place that I intend to live in - in particular, it means I'm not renting, but it could be a house, it could be an apartment, it could be a big RV that I intend to live in (though it's far more likely to be a building than this last one).

Buy a house - this is similar to the previous one, but it's more likely to mean that I bought a building intended to be a single family home, and I may or may not intend to live there (I might be renting it to someone else).

Buy a building - if I said this, I most likely mean that I bought a building for some commercial purpose. It may mean that I bought a house in order to rent it out, but it's more likely to mean that I bought a larger structure, perhaps an apartment building to rent out, or an office or industrial building where people go to work. My intention may be to rent it out, or to turn around and sell it for a higher price.

Most people would not say that they "bought a building" if they intended to live there. House and Home are sometimes used in place of each other, but "house" is more often used if you're not living there.

  • Note that in the U.S., at least, we would be unlikely to say that someone "bought an apartment". "Apartment" is normally understood to mean living space that is rented. If the same place is sold, it is called a "condominium".
    – Jay
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 19:15
  • 1
    @Jay East Coast people buy apartments, but the apartment is as you note a unit in a condominium or a co-op. This does not take away from the primary sense of apartment as a rental unit, but to say I'm buying an apartment on the Upper East Side raises no eyebrows.
    – choster
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 19:23
  • What choster said. The essential concept is that of a condominium, but the word apartment is sometimes used interchangeably, I would think particularly when there's a shared entry space rather than multiple attached units with separate entrances... I used to live in a fourplex which we referred to as condos, and it's typically what I think of when I use the word.
    – Jason
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 19:57
  • Apartment and condo usage is definitely regional. I'm from California, and live in Seattle - and it's impossible to "buy" an "apartment" anywhere I've lived. Apartments are rented, period. That NY phrase sounds bizarre to me. You can convert an apartment building into condos ("the building went condo") before it's sold, though - and then you're buying a condo. No physical change necessary. Commented May 7, 2014 at 0:25
  • @choster Ok, I think we may have to chalk that up as a regionalism, or possibly an inconsistent usage. I've lived most of my life in Ohio and Michigan, by the way. I grew up in New York and don't recall anyone talking of "buying an apartment", but that was a long time ago, usage may have changed or I may simply have forgotten.
    – Jay
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 13:36

There is a distinction that none of the other answers (so far) have been able to make clear.

  • A building is anything that is built, from a shed, to a skyscraper.
  • a house is a building that is designed to be lived in
  • a home is a place that has personality, emotion, and memories. It is unique to an individual (or a family). Often, a home is a house, but it could be anywhere.

I would suggest that it is impossible to "buy a home". You don't buy a home, you make a home.

A house is your home when you know it well, it has your decorations in it, when you know what doors are squeaky, etc.

I would not expect to hear someone say "I am going to buy a home". I would expect to hear them say "I am going to buy a house, and make it my home".

Once people have established their home, they will normally refer to it as their 'home', not their 'house', for example, they may say "I bought my home last year". Note that it is possessive, it is "my home", but "a house"... I will buy a house, but I bought my home.

  • On the contrary, I hear something like "Aluiscious just bought a home in Elk Snout" all the time. It's fairly common to use either when describing a dwelling that someone is going to live in.
    – Jason
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 19:49
  • @Jason - past tense is very different to future tense ... let me edit.
    – rolfl
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 19:50
  • I get your distinction, and you're right, "home" is a more possessive term, but the phrase "home-buying" is interchangeable with "house-hunting"... I just don't think it's completely inconsistent with the language to use "home" even in a future tense "I will buy a home", it's just less likely.
    – Jason
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 20:16
  • (Pssst, @Jason, it's usually spelled "Aloysius", and merely pronounced "Aluiscious".) Commented May 6, 2014 at 23:21
  • That's what I get for relying on a quick Google search for confirmation
    – Jason
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 13:48

An added distinction for "home" is that is usually your legal address for purposes of taxation, voting, jury duty, etc. You normally have a fixed legal home address, but can be temporarily living elsewhere.

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