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What’s the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard?

Cemetery and graveyards are often thought to mean the same thing these days. Cemeteries and graveyards both mean places to lay to rest deceased people, but these terms originally weren’t used so interchangeably; they differ in size, religious affiliation, and the type of headstone required.

So, what’s the point of being concerned about the variations if the words denote locations with a similar concept? A couple of reasons exist. To start, there are those who, for reasons of objectivity, value word choice with great care.

However, beyond that, be as explicit as possible in your instructions for your final disposition so that your loved ones know precisely where you would like to be laid to rest and the reasoning behind your choice. To ensure that they fully grasp the significance of the distinction, it is helpful to articulate why it matters to you.

What is a Graveyard?

First, let’s examine what each word means to distinguish between a graveyard and a cemetery. Typically located adjacent to a place of worship, a graveyard is where individuals are laid to rest. The wealthy and influential Middle Ages Christians were typically laid to rest inside a church, sometimes in a crypt beneath the floor, after they died. The graveyard was a portion of the churchyard used to bury less privileged congregation members. This method remained in use for a long time. The Proto-Germanic roots of the verb “graban” (meaning “to dig”) and the noun “gardan” (meaning “enclosed land”) combine to form the compound word graveyard.

What is a cemetery?

Although it is a more modern idea, a cemetery is like a graveyard in that it is a location where the deceased are laid to rest. Rapid population growth was observed in the early 19th century. There was a pressing need for additional burial spaces as church cemeteries reached capacity. Consequently, “cemeteries”—separate locations for the dead—became increasingly popular. You are not required to be a member of a particular church to be laid to rest in a cemetery because most are not affiliated with any particular church. They’ve usually been put in a more rural area, far from the town center, to make room for them. One possible origin for the English word “cemetery” is the Greek word “koimeterion,” meaning “dormitory” or “resting place.” Instead of describing a place where a person sleeps physically, the term eventually came to mean where a person’s soul rests.

Types of Cemeteries

Ever since the dawn of humanity, there have been cemeteries, each more unique than the last. The cemetery’s layout expresses the faith, heritage, values, and customs of the people buried there. Because of this, various cemeteries have developed to meet people’s needs, and they are;

Religious cemeteries

Some religious groups or churches manage their cemeteries. Churchgoers usually get first dibs on the burial plots.

Municipal or district cemeteries

These are among the most common cemetery types. The government owns the land where it stands. Regardless of their faith or culture, anyone is welcome to visit these cemeteries.

Military or veterans’ cemetery

Only veterans and active-duty military personnel are allowed to be laid to rest in these cemeteries. The government owns and manages them.

Green cemeteries

These provide an alternative to more conventional methods of interment. They are a gentler option on the planet. They make it possible to bury a person in a way that expedites decomposition and the body’s natural return to the earth using a disposition method called green or natural burial.

Now that we know what a graveyard and a cemetery are, let’s look at the similarities.

Similarities Between A Cemetery and A Graveyard

Their respective cemeteries contain mausoleums, tombs, and headstones. These two places will be the final resting places of anyone who passes away, whether in a hospital or some other part of the world.

Beyond that, graveyards and cemeteries serve essentially the same function. One can pay their respects to ancestors who have passed away at these locations. And this isn’t limited to the classic funeral rites either. It’s also true regardless of whether you choose to cremate the death. You might have buried the urn containing the ashes in the same manner as other cherished ones. Thus, graveyards and cemeteries seem to be interchangeable terms at first glance.

The Major Differences Between A Cemetery And A Graveyard


Where the graves are located precisely is the primary point of contention. A graveyard is typically located in or near a church, whereas a cemetery is more commonly found in a neighborhood. So, while cemeteries are typically located outside churches, graveyards are typically on church grounds. The single word “cemetery” serves as the main clue. This area has been designated for burials. This isn’t just some vacant lot next to a church; it’s a special place. There are a ton of regulations regarding what you can and cannot do there. This is because more planning is involved than merely placing graves for the deceased. In contrast, religious organizations frequently established graveyards. For example, it was common practice for the early settlers to construct houses of worship, which often included a cemetery.


In most cases, a graveyard will be much smaller than a cemetery. The graves of a single-family or small group of people, such as a long-gone town, are typically the only ones found in a cemetery. Conversely, a cemetery can be considerably bigger and accommodate various burials. For example, seeing graves from different faiths in the same cemetery is not unusual.

Services Offered

Cemeteries typically offer more services, such as monuments and funeral planning information, than graveyards. A cemetery is one place to consider if you are considering burial options. Cemeteries are sacred places where you can pay your respects to ancestors who have gone before you. Memorial services are another way for people to come together at cemeteries to pay tribute to loved ones who have passed away. A cemetery is a public plot of land where individuals enter their loved ones’ graves. Collections of vaults or tombs line the sides of some cemeteries’ paths that ascend to chapels.

Difference in Age

Finding out where the word “cemetery” came from is also helpful. The term “cemetery” originates in the Latin word “coemeterium,” meaning “burial place,” and ultimately from the Greek word “koimētērion,” meaning “bedchamber.” Although cemeteries are a more modern concept, graveyards have a much longer history. Mass burials were the catalyst that set everything in motion. They had previously kept them at home or close to their place of employment.  “cemetery” and “burial ground” are commonly used to describe these early cemeteries. They were typically situated outside the city walls when cities had walls encircling them. Due to their construction following the obsolescence of graveyards, cemeteries are typically better organized than their forebears.

Difference in Headstones

There may be specific regulations regarding headstones in church-owned cemeteries, similar to the strict regulations many churches have regarding the faiths of those buried there. Granite or another natural stone is usually the material of choice for headstones. Stones should not be colored or polished, and elaborate memorials are discouraged in churches. Christian principles are enforced even in the regulation of headstone inscriptions. A headstone isn’t going to break the bank, which is one advantage of this spare style. Also, ensure that whoever is supposed to clean the headstone knows what to do. In general, there are far fewer regulations concerning headstones in cemeteries. You are free to be as understated or extravagant as you desire.


We trust that you now have a clearer picture of the original meaning when discussing cemeteries vs. graveyards. While both provide a space to honor the departed, they are distinct in their services and roles. Be sure to visit a cemetery if you are seeking a location to lay your loved one to rest or if you would like more information regarding the funeral process.

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