Ask An Editor: Do Americans say 'motel' anymore? What about 'boarding house?'
In which a professional book editor gets English as a Second Language students up to speed on the various American terms for staying at places other than your home
I was blessed to receive my COVID vaccination earlier in 2021 than many others, thanks to a selfless act by a friend; so to pay them back karmically, I'm doing volunteer work in English editing in various places all over the internet this year. One place is the subreddit English Learning, in which befuddled ESL students around the world post questions that no one else can seem to answer for them, many involving odd phrases, idioms, and other bizarre corners of English grammar and usage. I find many of them so interesting, I decided to start reposting them here to my blog. Note, however, that many other people usually reply to these questions as well, and that I'm only sharing my own answer since I have no one else's permission to do so. See my main index page for the full list.
On April 17th, 2021, redditor IethorHomesdIIIX asked:
Boarding house? Motel? how do you guys called type of house used for staying overnight (or temporally staying for few months)?
“Motel” is correct if you're talking about a very short stay. Other terms, depending on the situation, would include “hotel,” “inn,” “bed and breakfast” (or “B&B”), and “Airbnb.” If a person was to stay in a motel for longer than a week, you might say that they have a “long-term residency,” but this is unusual since this would be so expensive.
“Boarding house” used to be the term for when a person temporarily stayed somewhere for a few months. A boarding house is a highly specific type of building; imagine a private home, with a kitchen and a bathroom everyone shares, except the people staying in the bedrooms are strangers to each other. They are renting just their room for several weeks or several months, and their room is the only one that is truly private to them; they share the rest of the house's rooms with the other “boarders.”
This term is now mostly outdated, though, the main reason being that there simply aren't very many boarding houses left in the US. The most common term now is “temporary housing,” which can mean either an entire house or just an apartment inside an apartment building. It's extremely rare anymore that someone might need to live somewhere new for just a few months, and would do so by renting a bedroom inside someone else's home.
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