har·​em | \ ˈher-əm How to pronounce harem (audio) \

Definition of harem

1a : a usually secluded house or part of a house allotted to women in some Muslim households
b : the wives, concubines, female relatives, and servants occupying a harem
2 informal : a group of women associated with one man the pop star and his harem
3 : a group of females associated with one male used of polygamous animals Researchers who study elk have determined that the males who possess the largest harems of females not only sport the largest racks of antlers, but also the most symmetrical ones.— Natalie Angier

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Did You Know?

In a Muslim household, a harem is a part of a house set apart for women and from which nonfamily males are excluded. Harems existed in the pre-Islamic civilizations of the Middle East and in the courts of pre-Islamic Assyria, Persia, and Egypt. The harem was also found in the courts of China and Japan as well as in India and southeast Asia. Large harems for wives and concubines were common in wealthy Arab households into the 20th century; the great harem of the Turkish sultans (15th–20th century) contained several hundred women, guarded by eunuchs. By the later 20th century, the full harem system remained only among conservative elements of Arab society.

Examples of harem in a Sentence

the pop star and his harem

Recent Examples on the Web

In its world premiere at Cal Shakes, Madhuri Shekar’s swashbuckling adventure, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, plunges us inside the silk and glitter of a harem in 17th-century India during the Mughal Empire. Karen D'souza, The Mercury News, "Review: Swashbuckling world premiere ‘House of Joy’ hits and misses at Cal Shakes," 19 Aug. 2019 One day a new girl showed up at Spahn Ranch with Bobby Beausoleil, who kept his own little harem and was more of a Manson associate than follower. Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times, "How Charles Manson cast his spell on homecoming queens, honor students and dropouts," 11 Aug. 2019 An action-adventure romance set in a harem at the beginning of the end of the Mughal Empire. Lisa Herendeen, The Mercury News, "S.F. Bay Area calendar: Beauty and the Beast Jr., jazz and more," 22 July 2019 Claiming no favorites, Zeffirelli once likened himself to a sultan with a harem of three: film, theater and opera. Colleen Barry, chicagotribune.com, "Famed Italian director Franco Zeffirelli dies at age 96," 15 June 2019 Claiming no favorites, Zeffirelli once likened himself to a sultan with a harem of three: film, theater and opera. NBC News, "'Romeo and Juliet' director Franco Zeffirelli dies at 96," 15 June 2019 Claiming no favorites, Zeffirelli once likened himself to a sultan with a harem of three: film, theater and opera. CBS News, "Franco Zeffirelli, Italian director known for "Romeo and Juliet," dies at 96," 15 June 2019 The show marked a movement of the label’s sharply tailored proportions into more languid, volumized silhouettes such as billowy harem trousers. Ingrid Schmidt, The Hollywood Reporter, "Starry Crowd Gathers in Malibu for Saint Laurent's Mick Jagger-Inspired Men's Show," 7 June 2019 Royal gardens, peeling frescoes, and tiled mosaics are breathtaking in their beauty, but the zenith of any visit is a wander through the sultan’s harem, once home to hundreds of concubines and their eunuch guards. Ashlea Halpern, Condé Nast Traveler, "Three Days In Istanbul," 28 Dec. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'harem.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of harem

1634, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for harem

ultimately from Arabic ḥarīm, literally, something forbidden & ḥaram, literally, sanctuary

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Statistics for harem

Last Updated

2 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for harem

The first known use of harem was in 1634

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More Definitions for harem



English Language Learners Definition of harem

: a house or part of a house in which the women of a Muslim household live
: the women who live in a harem in a Muslim household
informal : a group of women who are associated with one man

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More from Merriam-Webster on harem

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with harem

Spanish Central: Translation of harem

Nglish: Translation of harem for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of harem for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about harem

Comments on harem

What made you want to look up harem? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


formidable, illustrious, or eminent

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