noun, verb (used with or without object) Chiefly British.

Usage note

See -or1.




a part of a body of water along the shore deep enough for anchoring a ship and so situated with respect to coastal features, whether natural or artificial, as to provide protection from winds, waves, and currents.
such a body of water having docks or port facilities.
any place of shelter or refuge: The old inn was a harbor for tired travelers.

verb (used with object)

to give shelter to; offer refuge to: They harbored the refugees who streamed across the borders.
to conceal; hide: to harbor fugitives.
to keep or hold in the mind; maintain; entertain: to harbor suspicion.
to house or contain.
to shelter (a vessel), as in a harbor.

verb (used without object)

(of a vessel) to take shelter in a harbor.
Also especially British, har·bour.

Origin of harbor

before 1150; Middle English herber(we), herberge, Old English herebeorg lodgings, quarters (here army + (ge)beorg refuge); cognate with German Herberge
Related formshar·bor·er, nounhar·bor·less, adjectivehar·bor·ous, adjectiveun·har·bored, adjective
Can be confuseddock harbor pier wharf

Synonyms for harbor

Synonym study

1. Harbor, haven, port indicate a shelter for ships. A harbor may be natural or artificially constructed or improved: a fine harbor on the eastern coast. A haven is usually a natural harbor that can be utilized by ships as a place of safety; the word is common in literary use: a haven in time of storm; a haven of refuge. A port is a harbor viewed especially in its commercial relations, though it is frequently applied in the meaning of harbor or haven also: a thriving port; any old port in a storm. 6. See cherish.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for harbour

Contemporary Examples of harbour

Historical Examples of harbour

  • The big crane on the end of the mole was now on the Estremedura's quarter, and they were sliding into the mouth of the harbour.

    For Jacinta

    Harold Bindloss

  • The strangers departed, having promised the Johnsons to meet the next morning at an inn lower down the harbour.

    Sea-Dogs All!

    Tom Bevan

  • When Joseph Bouchette first entered the harbour of Toronto, as described above, he was not without associates.

    Toronto of Old

    Henry Scadding

  • The ship cast off and threaded its way through the shipping of the harbour out into the open sea.

  • The Wolf reached Portsmouth after a somewhat long voyage, and going into harbour, was at once paid off.

    The Rival Crusoes

    W.H.G. Kingston

British Dictionary definitions for harbour


US harbor


a sheltered port
a place of refuge or safety


(tr) to give shelter toto harbour a criminal
(tr) to maintain secretlyto harbour a grudge
to shelter (a vessel) in a harbour or (of a vessel) to seek shelter
Derived Formsharbourer or US harborer, nounharbourless or US harborless, adjective

Word Origin for harbour

Old English herebeorg, from here troop, army + beorg shelter; related to Old High German heriberga hostelry, Old Norse herbergi
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for harbour

chiefly British English spelling of harbor (n. and v.); for spelling, see -or.



Old English hereborgian, cognate with Old Norse herbergja, Old High German heribergon, Middle Dutch herbergen; see harbor (n.). Figuratively, of thoughts, etc., from late 14c. Related: Harbored; harboring.



"lodging for ships," early 12c., probably from Old English herebeorg "lodgings, quarters," from here "army, host" (see harry) + beorg "refuge, shelter" (related to beorgan "save, preserve;" see bury); perhaps modeled on Old Norse herbergi "room, lodgings, quarters." Sense shifted in Middle English to "refuge, lodgings," then to "place of shelter for ships."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper