Definition of harem in US English:



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

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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’
    women's quarters
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 The women occupying a harem; the wives (or concubines) of a polygamous man.
      • ‘The original builder of the Temple was born from the 27th or 28th wife of the harem of King David.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘His grandson, Kublai Khan, had 22 legitimate sons, and was said to add 30 virgins to his harem each year.’
      • ‘At its center was the palace-home to the king, his harem, and hundreds of courtiers.’
    2. 1.2 A group of female animals sharing a single mate.
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘A mature male koala usually has a small harem of females which he guards jealously.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Gorilla groups are generally polygynous, consisting of one silverback male, his harem of several adult females, their young, and one or more subordinate males.’
      • ‘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.’
    3. 1.3derogatory A group of women perceived as centering around a particular man.
      ‘rich men with their extensive harems of buxom blondes’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I was ready to retire to an island resort with my winning lottery ticket and a harem of attentive lovers.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Just do what a banker who hails from Long Island does: build a mansion in Colombia and keeps a harem of beautiful women.’
      • ‘He was spotted in a New York club the other night with a harem of girls, buying them all drinks.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But critics point out that he has gathered a harem of nine so-called wives with him on Fiji, including a former Playboy centerfold.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘His videos invariably feature a harem of voluptuous, bikini-clad lovelies positively gagging to get down with the self-styled Mr Lover Lover.’
      • ‘He has a live-in harem of international beauties.’


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