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Tuesday, 07 November 2017 19:49

Carpet v. Rug v. Mat v. Pad?

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Ask Scott:

This question comes from a mother in Shenzhen, China.

Q. What is the difference between "carpet", "rug," and "mat"?

A. That is a GREAT question. One problem is, "carpet" and "rug" have the same name in Chinese: ditan (地毯). These items are similar in that they are a piece of covering on a floor. However, there are some important differences that should make it clear. 

A CARPET is usually big enough to cover 100% of a floor. You might hear the phrase "wall to wall carpeting" to describe a room or house.  Also, a carpet is usually cut to the exact size and shape of the room, and is installed and attached to the floor so it cannot move around. Once you place it, it stays there usually until you want to throw it away and get a new carpet.  Also, in the US at least, a carpet often does not have a pattern; it is just one color. 


A RUG, in contrast, is usually smaller than carpet and covers only part of a floor. It is not attached so the floor, so you can easily move it to different parts of a room, or even different rooms. Rugs often have a pattern and are rectangular in shape, but some are round or oval. 


A MAT is what is called dianzi (垫子) in Chinese. It is usually even smaller than a rug, maybe a little thicker, and is often placed right in front of a door or in a place where a person stand often and needs extra cushioning for their feet. (For example, I have a standing desk in my office, and it came with a cushioned floor mat so, if I stand for hours, my feet and legs will still feel comfortable.)  There are different kinds of mats for different purposes. A WELCOME MAT or DOORMAT is in front of the front door; it serves to welcome guests and is a place to wipe off one's feet. (Most Americans wear their shoes into homes.)  An EXERCISE MAT is foamy and even thicker. One can lie on it and exercise or stretch. A PLACE MAT is different in that it goes on a table and is below the plate, silverware, and cup. 


A student in Beijing just asked me about the difference between a MAT and a PAD. A PAD can be the pillow-like cushion on a chair, sofa, or even a bed. Also, whereas a MAT is always on the floor or ground, a PAD is usually on a piece of furniture. (Also, PAD is one of those English words that has MANY uses: You can write on a pad of paper. You roll a computer mouse across a mouse pad. Females use a pad for women's hygiene. You can use a pad to shock a heart back into action, etc. And of course there is the famous ipad.) 


We also have some idioms that use "carpet" and "mat."


  • "Call somone on the carpet."

Meaning: to loudly scold, blame or criticize someone

Origin: In old factory days, workers stood on a hard floor and the only carpet was in the boss' office. And often, workers were called to the office just to be scolded or corrected, so to be "called on the carpet" means you're in trouble.


Chuck got called on the carpet when we was late to work three days in a row. 

No one likes to get called on the carpet, so a wise teacher (or parent or boss) knows that correction should normally be done in private, whenever possible, without others watching.  


  • "Don't be a doormat." 

Meaning: do not be so weak and accepting, that other people feel like they can treat you badly or meanly. 

Origin: If someone feels like they can be mean to you or take advantage of you, we say "You let that person walk all over you." And since a doormat is on the floor and people walk on it, we say, "Don't be a doormat."


Richard is so weak and spineless, he lets everyone at work walk all over him but he still does most of the work. He's got to stop being such a doormat.

It is important for a husband and wife to compromise and cooperate to make the marriage successful, but that does not mean that one member of the marriage treats the other like a doormat. Respect has to go both ways.

Here are some good quotatations about NOT "being a doormat."





  • "Give somone the red carpet treatment."      Meaning: to give a grand, showy welcome to a guest.

Origin: When a president or king visits a country, the hosting president often has a long, red carpet rolled out to show how much they respect and welcome their new guest. From this we also get the idiom, "Roll out the red carpet."


The King of Saudi Arabia gave President Trump the red carpet treatment when Trump visited the Middle East in 2017.

Our boss told us we will roll out the red carpet when the company president comes to visit from New York next month, to give him a good impression of our office. (Note: this is symbolic language. The boss will probably NOT have an actual red carpet, but will make fancy preparations to welcome the company president.)


  • "Wear out the welcome mat."  Meaning: to overstay one's welcome; to be a guest at the host's place too long, so as to become annoying

Origin:  The Welcome Mat represents a warm welcome, and to wear out something means to use it too long, so that it is no longer good. 

Examples: Looking at his watch, Uncle Fred said, "It's 9:00 already; we don't want to wear out the welcome mat, so we'd better be going. Thanks for dinner!"

The famous Benjamin Franklin warned against wearing out the welcome mat with his saying, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."


Want to know more English idioms? Check out our blog post!

Do YOU have a question about English? Do you want to join a class to improve your skills? Contact Scott today to find out how!



Read 29231 times Last modified on Friday, 10 November 2017 14:54
Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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