a. Something, especially a structure, that provides cover or protection, as from the weather: a shelter for hikers.
b. An institution providing temporary housing and sometimes counseling, as for the homeless, runaways, or victims of domestic violence.
c. An establishment that cares for unwanted or stray animals and tries to find owners for them.
2. The state of being covered or protected: The fox found shelter in a cave.
v. shel·tered, shel·ter·ing, shel·ters
1. To provide cover or protection for: trees that sheltered the cows; agents who sheltered the spies.
2. To invest (income) to protect it from taxation.
To take cover; find refuge: We sheltered under the store's awning during the storm.
[Perhaps from Middle English sheltron, tight battle formation, from Old English scildtruma : scield, shield; see SHIELD + truma, troop; see deru- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: shelter, cover, retreat, refuge, asylum, sanctuary
These nouns refer to places affording protection, as from danger, or to the state of being protected. Shelter usually implies a covered or enclosed area that protects temporarily, as from injury or attack: built a shelter out of pine and hemlock boughs. Cover suggests something that conceals: traveled under cover of darkness. Retreat applies chiefly to a secluded place to which one retires for meditation, peace, or privacy: a rural cabin that served as a weekend retreat. Refuge suggests a place of escape from pursuit or from difficulties that beset one: "The great advantage of a hotel is that it's a refuge from home life" (George Bernard Shaw).
Asylum adds to refuge the idea of legal protection or of immunity from arrest: Were the dissidents able to find asylum in another country? Sanctuary denotes a sacred or inviolable place of refuge: political refugees finding sanctuary in a monastery.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.