Definition of harem in English:


Pronunciation /ˈhɛːrəm//ˈhɑːriːm//hɑːˈriːm/


  • 1(in former times) the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants.

    ‘we were invited into the harem in the rear of the house’
    • ‘He travelled 1,500 miles across the desert to the Fifth Cataract, with his collapsible wooden camera, barrels of distilled water and a darkroom tent - which villagers thought housed a harem.’
    • ‘Here one can appreciate such aspects of Muslim architecture as the use of water within the complex, typically in front of the splendid Tower of Comares, which along with the harem forms the heart of the Nazrid Palace.’
    • ‘In the harem, the younger wives beg the older for stories of him and the tales begin to unravel, his kindness, his teasing, his passion, his laughter’
    • ‘Among the striking objects on display are the wooden doors designed by the famous architect Sinan for the harem of the sultan Murad III in 1578, and measuring over 2.5 metres in height.’
    • ‘A theatre was constructed in the inner court of the harem, leaning against the windows of the apartments of the ladies, so that they can see the scene.’
    women's quarters
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 The women occupying a harem; the wives (or concubines) of a polygamous man.
      ‘the Maharaja of Delhi had a very fine harem of 18 young and nubile wives’
      • ‘Since an imperial harem numbered more than 5,000 wives, concubines, and eunuch guards at the height of the dynasty, the scale of cooking was gargantuan.’
      • ‘He married a woman called Isis, who was probably his first wife, and he also maintained large harems and kept subsidiary wives, who bore him many children.’
      • ‘The original builder of the Temple was born from the 27th or 28th wife of the harem of King David.’
      • ‘At its center was the palace-home to the king, his harem, and hundreds of courtiers.’
      • ‘His grandson, Kublai Khan, had 22 legitimate sons, and was said to add 30 virgins to his harem each year.’
    2. 1.2 A group of female animals sharing a single mate.
      ‘the dominant bulls gather a harem of anything from two to ten cows’
      • ‘Reaching the South Atlantic coast, we head down the steep cliffs on foot to find a colony of elephant seals basking on the shore, a huge black male surrounded by a harem of smaller females, all in the process of moulting.’
      • ‘With winter approaching, pronghorn males each gather small harems of females into gullies and valleys on the prairie, trying to keep them out of sight of their rivals while they woo them.’
      • ‘A mature male koala usually has a small harem of females which he guards jealously.’
      • ‘A stallion starts a harem by abducting females from other herds, but the dominant stallions from which he steals do not give up their females easily.’
      • ‘The maneless lions had no trouble attracting a healthy harem of females - the Tsavo prides were surprisingly large, with seven or eight females, and were ruled by a single male lion.’
      • ‘On the beach at the outlying isle of Espanola, boatloads of tourists pick their way among the sea lion pups cuddling flipper-to-flipper, while huge bull sea lions bark angry orders to keep away from their harems.’
      • ‘They were all males - enjoying themselves while females - each male has up to 120 in his harem - were busy procuring food and bringing up pups.’
      • ‘Kenwood now runs around his field with his own harem of female mooses and zoo staff are waiting to see which he decides to mate with.’
      • ‘What other mammal continues to indulge in sexual activity long after it can successfully compete with younger, fitter males for the favours of the harem?’
      • ‘Gorilla groups are generally polygynous, consisting of one silverback male, his harem of several adult females, their young, and one or more subordinate males.’
    3. 1.3derogatory A group of women perceived as centring around a particular man.
      ‘rich men with their extensive harems of buxom blondes’
      • ‘I was ready to retire to an island resort with my winning lottery ticket and a harem of attentive lovers.’
      • ‘For those who have missed this fine media offering, a carefully selected lunk of a guy is presented with a harem of 25 also carefully selected young women, all slim, all conventionally pretty and most blonde.’
      • ‘He has a live-in harem of international beauties.’
      • ‘Just do what a banker who hails from Long Island does: build a mansion in Colombia and keeps a harem of beautiful women.’
      • ‘But critics point out that he has gathered a harem of nine so-called wives with him on Fiji, including a former Playboy centerfold.’
      • ‘His videos invariably feature a harem of voluptuous, bikini-clad lovelies positively gagging to get down with the self-styled Mr Lover Lover.’
      • ‘He was spotted in a New York club the other night with a harem of girls, buying them all drinks.’
      • ‘Take a handsome rich guy who could easily get most any woman that he wanted, then set him up in a mansion with a harem of beautiful young women who will do anything to stay for another episode.’
      • ‘I couldn't work out whether he thought I was trying to steal his hens or whether he wanted to add me to his harem.’
      • ‘Bram Stoker's original story focuses on the undead Count and his mortal rival, Dr.Van Helsing, who vie for the very souls of Lucy and Mina, the two young Victorian ladies the vampire would add to his harem of bloodthirsty brides.’
      • ‘He may date entire harems of beautiful women, drop heavy hints about drugs in interviews, and party at the Playboy Mansion, but he still makes this superstar sex symbol lark look like a total breeze.’
      • ‘The old casting-couch general no longer had the strength to appear on his own television specials, much less escort a harem of beauty queens into war zones.’


Mid 17th century: from Arabic ḥaram, ḥarīm, literally ‘prohibited, prohibited place’ (hence ‘sanctuary, women's quarters, women’), from ḥarama ‘be prohibited’. Compare with haram.