November 16, 2010

Terminology Tuesday: Is it a House?

We use Terminology Tuesday to highlight and correct commonly misused Alpha Phi and Fraternity/Sorority terms. As you read on you may find yourself thinking, “Thanks, Executive Office, for pointing out the obvious today.” However, many of us regularly use these terms incorrectly without noticing the seemingly logical distinction between the two.

When we talk about our members or the groups at a particular University, we sometimes use the terms “chapter” and “house” interchangeably. Obviously, local chapters may be housed or un-housed. So the term “Greek house” can be misleading and should be reserved to mean the physical residence of the Fraternity/Sorority chapter living in a house. In fact, the terms should be used and understood by their literal definitions:

Chapter (noun) – a branch, usually restricted to a given locality, of a society, organization, fraternity, etc.

House (noun) – a building in which people live, residence for human beings

Remember this next time you find yourself saying, “We’ve made improvements to our house” and you don’t mean you’ve made renovations to your facility or updated your living room decorations. In the Fraternity/Sorority world, the two terms seem to be used as synonyms, where “house” indicates the local members of the chapter or the groups that are at any particular school/University. For example, you might say, “We have 9 Fraternity/Sorority houses on campus” even where the groups do not have residential facilities. Instead, local affiliates of the International Fraternity should be referred to as "chapters."

So to boil this down to my basic point, the term “house” should be used to refer to the actual physical residential facility in which chapter members live. The term chapter should be used to identify the local affiliates (chapters) of Alpha Phi at each school and their members (or local alumnae chapters in a particular city). Use the following pictorial “pop quiz” as a fun self-test on what you've learned here today!

1. Chapter or House?

Answer: House

2. Chapter or House?

Answer: Chapter

3. Chapter or House?

Answer: Chapter in a house!

4. Chapter or House?

Answer: House

5. Chapter or House?

Answer: Tricky, right? Chapter in front of a chapter house!

Hope Gray is the Program Manager of Collegiate Housing Operations at the Alpha Phi Executive Office. She can be reached at

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