What’s the difference between a Cemetery and a Graveyard?

This title was not meant to be a contender for world’s worst burial joke – though happy to judge if you pop a response in the comments…

No, as I started writing this blog I realised I wasn’t entirely sure whether there’s a difference between the two terms. Are they completely interchangeable?

The decision on the use of Graveyard here was entirely based on the near rhyming with Raven and my love of the Poe-ster.

I could have also gone down the route of alliteration with Seagull in a Cemetery – which, while entirely accurate here in the North East of England, doesn’t really conjure up the imagery I was going for. Though saying that, our seagulls are fecking terrifying.

(It’s probably also worth mentioning here the conversation between my friend T and I that led to Raven in a Graveyard – please note that it was fuelled by several glasses of wine:

T:  “Raven in a Graveyard, Raven in the Grave, it’s great, brings in your love of Poe, cemeteries, perfect…” pauses, then continues…

“or what about Graveyard Girl or Girl in a Grave”

Me:”Girl in a Grave? Seriously? That is not the sort of blog I want to be writing…”

T: “yeah…that’s probably not the best idea is it?”)

Anyway back to the case in hand, what’s the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard? My immediate thought was that it’s a British English vs American English difference which turns out to be entirely untrue.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) divides them as follows:

  • Graveyard –  A burial-ground.
  • Cemetery – A place, usually a ground, set apart for the burial of the dead.

Ha ha. So one is a burial ground, and one is a ground set apart for burial… Clear as day.

The OED expands on the use of cemetery:

  • Originally applied to the Roman underground cemeteries or catacombs
  • The consecrated enclosure round a church; a churchyard. Obsolete.
  • A burial-ground generally; now esp. a large public park or ground laid out expressly for the interment of the dead, and not being the ‘yard’ of any church.

It seems that graveyard still refers to burial land associated with a church or chapel – specifically bringing limitations of religion into play (and as such is less commonly used now).

Cemetery on the other hand has moved away from this meaning to refer to a council, local government or private-owned piece of land that allows for burials from varying faiths and cremations to be housed there.

Additionally, a cemetery is much more likely to be designed as a public sanctuary. A place with seats and landscaping, a place of peace and rest rather than spookier, overgrown graveyards, with little by the way of paths.

Thankfully, this more relaxed approach to what constitutes a headstone in a cemetery, means my sister’s grave can be decorated like it’s Mardi Gras all year with tinsel, cocktail stirrers and glitter.



Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


One thought on “What’s the difference between a Cemetery and a Graveyard?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.