Definition of harbour in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈhɑːbə/
(US harbor)


1A place on the coast where ships may moor in shelter, especially one protected from rough water by piers, jetties, and other artificial structures: the curved breakwater was built of large stones to construct a small harbour the westerly wind kept us in harbour until the following afternoon
More example sentences
  • Big conger inhabit a number of environments, including deep water rock marks, harbours, jetties, piers, breakwaters and the odd sandy beach!
  • She swallowed and rushed in. ‘I'm here to ask about the berths available on the ships in harbour.’
  • During the storms of winter ships in the harbour were drydocked for repairs and refitting.
port, dock, haven, marina, dockyard, boatyard, mooring, anchorage, roads, waterfront;
jetty, quay, pier, slipway, wharf, landing stage
rare harbourage, moorage, roadstead, hithe
1.1A place of refuge: a safe harbour for children in distress
More example sentences
  • Fixed rates have long offered a safe harbour to homeowners who want the security of knowing what their monthly mortgage repayments will be for an extended period.
  • The best hope was that it would offer other safe harbors and define proportionality more flexibly.
  • The only women they have contact with are non-inmates, and thus these women are in positions of power: they are free to come and go, they have favors to dispense and they can offer safe harbors.
refuge, haven, safe haven, shelter, sanctuary, retreat, asylum, place of safety, place of security, port in a storm, oasis, sanctum


[with object]
1Keep (a thought or feeling, typically a negative one) in one’s mind, especially secretly: she started to harbour doubts about the wisdom of their journey
More example sentences
  • I just need to call him up and explain that Nate and I are just best friends, and that the idea that I was secretly harboring feelings for Nate is ridiculous.
  • If I am to be completely honest with myself… I have secretly harboured feelings for him since our wee junior years, though not another breathing soul would ever find out.
  • She knew her sister had secretly harbored feelings for her best friend and when she had realized it she also realized they looked great together.
bear, nurse, nurture, cherish, entertain, foster, feel secretly, hold on to, cling to, possess, maintain, retain
2Give a home or shelter to: woodlands that once harboured a colony of red deer
More example sentences
  • Spirit will spend the next three months searching for evidence of past water in the soil and rocks, which if found may heighten the likelihood that Mars once harboured life.
  • The new images showed further details of what scientists believe is the rocky bed of an ancient lake that may have once harboured life.
  • In fact, Mars once might have harbored a planet-wide ocean.
2.1Shelter or hide (a criminal or wanted person): he was suspected of harbouring an escaped prisoner
More example sentences
  • It seems we would rather harbour war criminals than shelter innocent human beings from inhumane regimes.
  • You are under arrest for aiding the escape and harboring this vile prisoner!
  • Rather, the police should take swift and decisive action against such offenses as harboring criminals, dealing drugs and swindling people.
shelter, conceal, hide, shield, protect, give asylum to, give sanctuary to, give shelter to, provide a refuge for;
accommodate, lodge, put up, take in, billet, house
2.2Carry the germs of (a disease): patients who may have been harbouring tuberculosis
More example sentences
  • Solitary nodules are more common than multinodular goitres clinically, and solitary nodules used to be considered more likely to harbour malignant disease.
  • Birds carrying West Nile virus have already been found in this country and tests are under way to find out if mosquitoes which could infect humans are harbouring the disease.
  • The individuals quarantined may in each case be perfectly healthy, but the suspicion that they are harbouring disease provokes the application of quarantine procedures.
3 [no object] archaic (Of a ship or its crew) moor in a harbour: he might have harboured in Falmouth
More example sentences
  • I first used them in an essay on Pope John XXIII, who believed the Church was like a ship that belonged at sea - not harboured in safe havens.
  • Moments proceeded swiftly through the seas of time; after four passings of the moon a large fleet of ships harbored themselves in the bay.



Example sentences
  • That anchorless, harborless desire seems very American to me.
  • The east coast of the South Island is rough and harbourless, except at Banks Peninsula and about Dunedin.
  • Sailing, he comes to an island, small and rugged but-green with grass or moss and littered with shells-a relief on this harborless voyage over endless seas.


Late Old English herebeorg 'shelter, refuge', herebeorgian 'occupy shelter', of Germanic origin; related to Dutch herberge and German Herberge, also to French auberge 'inn'; see also harbinger.

  • Old English herebeorg was ‘a shelter, refuge’. It came to be used as a shelter for ships in late Middle English. In Old English haven was the word used for harbour. The sense ‘cherish privately’ arose early and was used of any feelings; it gradually became associated principally with grievance and resentment. A harbinger (Middle English) was originally someone who went ahead to find lodgings for an army.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: har|bour

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.