Harbor or Harbour – What’s the Difference?

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.

What is the Difference Between Harbor and Harbour?

In this article, I will compare harbor vs. harbour. I will outline when it is appropriate to use each of these spellings and use each in example sentences.

Also, I will tell you about a memory tool that will help you choose harbour or harbor in your own writing.

When to Use Harbor

Definition of harbour definition of harbor definitionWhat does harbor mean? A harbor is a safe place for boats. In this usage, it is a noun.

Harbors are generally made from structures like piers and jetties near the shore that allow boats to escape dangerous water conditions.

Here are a few examples,

  • My three sailboats are docked at Sky Harbor on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.
  • “If we make for the harbor, we can wait out the storm,” suggested the first mate.
  • The pirates attacked the unarmed merchant vessels as soon as they passed beyond the harbor.
  • The British columnist Gideon Rachman has recently pointed out that the nostalgia that shapes some of the Brexit rhetoric — that image of Britain as the buccaneering trading nation that bravely forged its way into Hong Kong’s harbor and Sydney’s bay — is actually based on ignorance. –The Washington Post

Harbor can also be a verb, where it means to shelter something from untenable conditions.

For example,

  • Dirty dishes harbor a veritable Eden of bacteria and germs.
  • I harbor no hard feelings toward you.

When to Use Harbour

Define harbour and define harborWhat does harbor mean? 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

  • Small stars, like the one orbited by GJ 1132b, are extremely common and are known to harbour scores of small, potentially habitable, planets. –The Guardian

Below, you will see a graph harbour vs. harbor as they appear in British English,

harbor versus harbour

For reference, here is a chart of the same words in American English,

Spelling of harbour

These spelling differences mimic other American-British differences. For example, color-colour, honor-honour, favorite-favourite, and others.

Note that these charts are not scientifically precise. They limit their data to books published in English since 1800. Since harbour has been in use in British English since at least the Middle Ages, the charts are not a complete picture. Still, they deftly illustrate contemporary usage trends.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Now, let’s go over a trick you can use when choose harbor or harbour in your writing.

  • Harbor is the spelling to use when writing to an American audience.
  • Harbour is the spelling to use when writing to a British audience.

Since harbour is spelled with a U, like United Kingdom, you should have little trouble telling the difference between the two forms of this word.


Is it harbor or harbour? 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, remembering which version is which is a simple matter.

The differences between American and British English can be confusing. Be sure to check this site any time you have questions about spelling differences between these language communities.