What is the Difference Between a Coffin and a Casket?

August 14, 2017

You may never have needed to know that a casket and a coffin are actually two different things. But if you suddenly find yourself having to choose between a casket or a coffin for a funeral, you’ll want to know the difference.

What is the Difference Between ‘Coffin’ and ‘Casket’?

The most obvious difference is their appearance: coffins and caskets are shaped differently. Read on to learn more.


When most people picture a funeral service, they see what’s called a casket. That’s because a casket is used in the majority of funerals in the United States. Therefore, the difference between ‘casket’ and ‘coffin’ is especially important for families who live in the United States.

A casket is a specially-designed box made to contain a deceased person’s body. It’s typically used during a funeral service for viewing the body. Then, if the family has not chosen a cremation burial, the casket containing the body is lowered into the ground during the burial ceremony.

Wood casket with white and pink flowers Image Source: Flickr

If the family has chosen cremation for their loved one (or they’ve pre-arranged it themselves), the casket is not always buried. Sometimes it may only be utilized for the viewing, visitation, or wake, as well as the funeral service. But sometimes a cremation urn is placed within a casket and the casket is indeed buried.

By now you should have a clear image of what a casket looks like. It’s rectangular and typically features hinged bars on each side for carrying.

But what, then, is a coffin?


A coffin is also a specially designed box that holds a deceased person’s body for a funeral service. Like a casket, it may also be used for the viewing and burial.

But here’s the main difference: coffins have six sides. That might be hard to picture. It may help to think of an old movie you’ve seen, particularly a western. In movies set in the 1800’s, you’re likely to see a coffin, not a casket, if there is a funeral scene.

In coffins, the top part of the box is wider than the bottom.

White coffin in hearse with flowersImage Source: Pixabay

But that’s not the only difference between coffins and caskets. So how do you choose between a casket or a coffin for a funeral?

What this Means for You: Costs

While the shape of a casket and coffin is the core differentiator between the two, this leads to another big difference.


The reason that coffins are built to be narrower at the bottom is to save money on wood. They’re designed to accommodate the wider shoulder width of a body and the narrower width of the feet. As such, they tend to be cheaper than caskets.

Ultimately, the choice of a casket or a coffin depends on factors such as price and preferred shape. But both are appropriate for a funeral.


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The Difference Between ‘Casket’ and ‘Coffin’ Outside the United States

In most countries outside the United States, people use the term ‘coffin’ when they want to describe the ceremonial box that’s used to hold a loved one’s body during the funeral and burial.

To them, a casket is also a special box, but for something completely different. ‘Casket’ can also mean a special box in which one can store jewelry or important documents.

Why Do Americans Say ‘Casket’?

In the United States, the term ‘coffin’ was used regularly and consistently until the mid- to late-nineteenth century. That’s when funeral directors began using ‘casket’ as a way to soften their terminology and create a gentler way of speaking about deceased loved ones with grieving family members.

By associating a funerary box with a jewelry box, funeral directors hoped to impart a more soothing tone to the conversation when discussing funerals with families.

Now, hardly anyone knows that ‘casket’ has a different meaning and the difference between ‘casket’ and ‘coffin’ is a distinction hardly anybody notices anymore here in the United States. But now you know it.

Can You Be Buried in the Ground Without a Casket or Coffin?

In some cases the answer is yes, you can be buried in the ground without a coffin or a casket. However, this option is not available at every cemetery. If you are interested in this option, you may want to consider a natural burial. A natural burial does not use a coffin, burial vault, or embalming fluid. Learn more about natural burials here.

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