As far as I know, "tombs":

  1. Are normally associated with people who have a high status and lived a long time ago;
  2. They are very large and for VIPs basically.
  3. A tomb is a structure above ground.

Graves on the other hand:

  1. Are structures below ground.

That said, they must be different words with different semantic prosody, after all, people often use them interchangeably as I have seen/heard many times in various occasions! The question is that what shall I consider about them?

The question is that whether I can use them interchangeably or I have to use them in different situations? If so, which part of my provided information is reliable?

2 Answers 2


A grave is specifically a burial site. A stone recording the deceased person's name can be called a gravestone or tombstone.

As you say, tomb usually implies a more elaborate memorial structure. The fact that the deceased lived long ago is not part of the definition, but for the last century or so it hasn't been the custom to put up such showy memorials. Even a famous person will just have a stone plaque.

A tomb can also be a place for disposal of a corpse that isn't a hole in the ground, for example Jesus's empty tomb which was a cave.

  • Thank you @Kate Bunting; just out of curiosity, don't you think that the word "tomb" has a higher emotional implication comparing "grave"? For instance, for a holy person who has martyred in a war for his country's values and sanctities, which one of these two words can be more fitting when you want to refer to his burial place more respectfully?
    – A-friend
    Jan 2, 2020 at 9:30
  • 1
    Out of curiosity, I looked up 'grave of unknown soldier'. Though the one in Westminster Abbey is sometimes described as a grave, the formal name for this and similar burials in other countries is indeed "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier". Jan 2, 2020 at 9:51

They appear to be Saxon- and Latin-rooted words which are essentially synonymous, with only slight variations in usage:

OED says

grave is from Old English from Saxon from German from Norse, ultimately from grafan (to dig) with meanings including:

  1. a. A place of burial; an excavation in the earth for the reception of a corpse; †formerly often applied loosely to a receptacle for the dead not formed by digging, as a mausoleum.

.3. In enlarged rhetorical use: Anything that is, or may become, the receptacle of what is dead. So liquid grave, watery grave.

tomb is from Old French, from Old Greek "further etymology uncertain and disputed", with definitions including

  1. a. A place of burial; an excavation, chamber, vault, or other space used for the interment of the dead; a grave.
    c. A monument constructed to cover or mark a burial place, or as a memorial to the dead; (formerly also) †a tombstone erected over a grave (obsolete).
  • As per your conclusion @jonathanjo, I guess we can use these two words freely and interchangeably; I have my doubts just because I think "tomb" is more elaborate and formal than "grave" and for e.g. VIPs'/CIPs' burial places I've hardly ever been faced with the term "grave"; instead, you chiefly tend to utilize the word "tomb". Do you confirm my take on them?
    – A-friend
    Jan 20, 2020 at 8:42
  • 1
    I agree that "tomb" has a sense of a grander structure or more poetic usage, and "grave" is is more widely usedr. I was interested in the history so looked it up in OED to see if historically there were specific meanings. In normal use I would also say "grave".
    – jonathanjo
    Jan 20, 2020 at 14:08

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