Is it correct to refer to an apartment block as a "house"? What is the semantic relationship between the words 'building', 'house', and 'apartment block'? House and apartment block are two types of buildings, right? A house hosts only one family in contrast to an apartment block that accommodates multiple households, right?

Perhaps, my question is specifically about what 'house' means and whether an apartment block is also a house (in other words, whether you can point to an apartment block and say, "It's my house").

I have read the definitions and they didn't clarify things.

A building for human habitation, especially one that consists of a ground floor and one or more upper storeys.

Does it mean the term 'house' covers apartment buildings? It seems so (judging strictly by the definition), but one of the comments suggests it's not entirely the case.

  • An apartment block, depending on how you look at it, is a street (block) on which many apartment buildings have been built, or a group (block) of such buildings. A block is not a building or a house. Jul 29, 2020 at 16:07
  • @JasonBassford I guess I confused 'apartment block' with 'apartment building'. Anyway, my question stands Jul 29, 2020 at 16:12
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    It depends on the local culture. In UK we don't usually refer to city blocks in the same way that they do in North America, and an 'apartment block' is one building containing apartments. Usually in UK, a house does contain one family, although some that were built as such have been converted to 'flats' as we call them, or (to us a posh word) 'apartments'. Jul 29, 2020 at 17:35
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    We often say 'a block of flats' in the UK. Jul 29, 2020 at 18:05
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    In an episode of Sienfeld, Jerry asked someone to leave his "house", meaning his apartment. It would be unusual for someone living in an apartment building to call it his "house", but some use the term for the specific apartment. In this vernacular usage, "house" is the same as "home" or "residence".
    – brainchild
    Jul 30, 2020 at 9:30

1 Answer 1


A building is any permanent structure designed for humans to occupy, regardless of size or use. Buildings may be residential or non-residential. Apartment buildings, houses, and hotels are all buildings, as are office buildings, department stores, and movie theaters.

A home is the general term meaning "place where you live," regardless of the form of the building. You can point to an apartment building and say, "That's my home," or do the same with a single-family house. You can also use home to refer to the city or even country where you live: "Philadelphia is my home."

The word house, for most native speakers, would suggest what is more precisely called a single-family detached home, which is a residential building intended for a single family to live in. Other terms for the same thing include "stand-alone house," "detached house," or "single-family home." Which term is used most varies by where in the English-speaking world you are. House can also be used for side-by-side residential structures that share a common wall, though these are often given more precise terms like semi-detached house (also called a duplex) or terraced houses (also called townhouses). As long as each dwelling unit has a separate "front door" leading to the outside (potentially through a private yard belonging only to that dwelling), it's still a house.

Some particularly large houses might have a smaller, quasi-separate dwelling within them, formally called a secondary residence, and colloquially called all sorts of things (mother-in-law suite, granny flat, basement suite, nanny suite, etc.); but the whole building is still called a house if it has one primary residence that occupies the vast majority of the building.

The term house is sometimes used even when the original single-family dwelling is no longer used by a single family. Example: "This house was built in 1905, but in the 1970s it was divided up with one apartment on each floor. My apartment's kitchen used to be the butler's pantry of the original house." Note that the whole structure is still the house, not each individual unit.

You would never refer to a multi-story apartment building originally built as an apartment building as a "house."

Finally, your use of "apartment block" sparked some disagreement in the comments. The term block meaning "a large building divided into separate functional units" is a UK English term and has both residential and commercial uses: "apartment block," "office block." This term is not used in US English, and block is reserved for a whole group of buildings, often between two adjacent streets. In Canada, block is only used to mean "a large building" for government buildings, most famously Centre Block, where Parliament meets.

  • Native US English speaker here -- we do refer to "apartment blocks"; they are usually large buildings built with multiple units, not a building that used to be one large house that got converted into multiple units. Other than that, I came here to say pretty much what you've said; it applies to the US as well as to Canada, where I gather you're from.
    – rcook
    Aug 19, 2020 at 15:23

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