Haven v. Sanctuary

05:20 November 11, 2022

Haven v. Sanctuary

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question about the difference between “haven” and “sanctuary.”


Hello teacher,

I am Ghulammohammad from Afghanistan. I am confused by the words “haven” and “sanctuary.”




Dear Ghulammohammad,

Thanks for writing to us. These words can mean the same thing, but they also have their own meanings and uses.

Let’s explore each of them with some examples.


“Haven” is a noun and it has several different meanings.

In the past, a “haven” was a harbor for ships that was protected from the sea.

Over the centuries, this meaning has fallen out of use. But you might see it used as a part of a name of a place near a harbor.

It is helpful to know the past meaning of haven to understand the current usage of the word. The modern meaning of “haven” is a place that provides safety or refuge.

For example,

Mother birds use a nest as a haven for their baby birds.

We often use “haven” with the adjective “safe,” as in “safe haven.”

The local youth center provides a safe haven for children after school.

It can also be used to describe a place that offers a lot of opportunities for certain kinds of people. For example:

The restaurant is a haven for local artists to share their work.

Now, let’s turn to “sanctuary.”


“Sanctuary” is a noun with several different meanings.

In religion, a “sanctuary” is a holy place or room for religious services. For example,

The leader of the church addresses the attendees from the sanctuary.

Members of the choir sit near the church sanctuary.

Over time, the meaning and use has changed. Churches have at times permitted people to seek shelter and refuge inside the building. This created the idea of the sanctuaries as being safe places. So now, “sanctuary” means a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter.

It can also mean a place where one can find peace.

The garden was her sanctuary after work, a place where she was able to relax.

A “sanctuary” is also a protected space for animals to live freely and away from danger. There are many wildlife sanctuaries around the world.

Lions and tigers have been placed in big cat sanctuaries where they are free and are not hunted.

Lastly, as an adjective, “sanctuary” is used to describe areas in the United States where local law enforcement has a limited ability to oversee federal laws related to immigration.

States like California, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont are all sanctuary states.

This means that undocumented people will not be asked about their immigration status.

Please let us know if these explanations and examples have helped you!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at [email protected]

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


harbor – n. a part of the ocean or a lake that is next to land and that is protected and deep enough to provide safety for ships

refuge – n. a place where people or animals are protected from danger

youth - n. someone who is young

opportunity – n. a situation in which it is possible for you to do something that you want to do

choir – n. a group of singers especially in a church​


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