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Harbour vs. Harbor

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  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips

If you need a place to dock your motorboat, should you look for a harbor or harbour? The answer depends on where your seafaring adventures have taken you. Harbor and harbour are two spelling variants of the same word. One is used in American English, and the other is used in British English.

Continue reading to discover which is which.            


Harbour originated from 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.

Harbor as noun:

Harbor is used as a noun which means a 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 harbor.

Harbor as verb:

Harbor is also used as a verb which means to keep (a thought or feeling, typically a negative one) in one's mind, especially secretly.

She started to harbor doubts about the wisdom of their journey.

Harbor also means to give a home or shelter to.

Woodlands that once harbored a colony of red deer is in ruins now.

Use of harbor:

The spellings without the u are very commonly used in American English. If you live in United States or are writing for the people of US, you should use these spellings.


Deepening the Savannah harbor to accommodate larger ships is now the number one priority for officials in the coastal city. [GPB]

State Senator Jack Hart is advocating for the city to dump its snow surplus into the harbor, saying that Boston streets have become a public safety concern. [Boston Globe]

Baltimore’s harbor may be a mess, but those who attended a daylong conference on its problems Saturday came away encouraged that it doesn’t have to stay that way. [Baltimore Sun]

Use of harbour:

Harbour is another variant of the same word. It can be used in all the same contexts because it means the same thing. Where harbor is used in American English, harbour is the preferred spelling in British English.


The city, with its excellent harbour, occupied far too important a strategic position to be left deserted for long. [The Guardian]

To many Sydneysiders, the harbour is a proudly flaunted jewel, a brilliant vision to admire from balconies, boats and foreshores. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Much of historic St. John’s centres around its harbour and the major downtown shopping area is just metres from the water. [Toronto Sun]

Harbour or harbor:

Harbor and harbour are two versions of a word that has been in use for many centuries. As a noun, it means a place to shelter boats. As a verb, it means to shelter something from adverse conditions. Harbor is the American version of this word. Harbour predominates in British English. Since harbour shares its U with United Kingdom, you can easily remember which spellings to use if you are writing for British audience.



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