labyrinth vs maze

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Senior Member
Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
I was watching the film "Minotaur" and a script line says "...the beast is kept in the labyrinth under the palace...every three years 8 youths would be taken by the royal soldiers and sacrificed to the beast"

My question is "what's the difference between labyrinth and maze?" Can they be used interchangeably? You don't use these words in daily life do you? Comments are welcome. :D

PS: In the movie "Harry Potter III The Goblet of Fire", as I recall it, the word "maze" was deployed throughout the film instead of "labyrinth."
  • volky

    Senior Member
    What I found is that a Maze is multicursal, or a series of paths with dead ends and can be quite frustrating. A Labyrinth is unicursal, meaning it has only one path and no dead ends.


    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Is it? That's quite interesting because I never thought of that before. By "multi/unicursal" do you mean the "winding paths" inside a maze or a labyrinth? I didn't seem to be able to find these two words in my dictionary, yikes! Thanks for your quick reply. :)


    Senior Member
    USA English
    Labyrinth is the specific name of the maze in Greek mythology designed by Daedalus to house the Minotaur, so your script is using the literal meaning. In Modern English it can be used interchangeably with maze. Maze is more common, but labyrinth carries that cool mythological allusion.


    Senior Member
    Australia English
    The original labyrinth was built on Crete specifically for the Minotaur.

    According to Merriam-Webster, a labyrinth is a maze.

    The Merriam-Webster definition of labyrinth
    1 a : a place constructed of or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys
    b : a maze (as in a garden) formed by paths separated by high hedges

    The Oxford definitions:
    noun 1 a complicated irregular network of passages or paths

    noun 1 a puzzle consisting of a network of paths and walls or hedges through which one has to find a way.


    . 1

    Australian Australia
    The meanings are so similar that the Oxford Distionary has a cross-reference from labyrinth to maze in the first definition given.

    On a technical viewpoint there is a difference between Labyrinth and labyrinth in that the proper noun version refers specifically to the King Minos maze whereas the lower case word links to common mazes.



    I always envisage a labyrinth as being of solid construction, with a roof, and usually underground.
    A maze is usually just a convoluted series of paths in a hedgerow.


    Senior Member
    Context) The XXX forest has a lot of very complicated paths in it. If one enter the forest, it is very hard for him to find the exit. If he is unfortunate, he can't get out of it before he dies.

    The XXX forest is just as though a labyrinth by nature. ....1
    The XXX forest is just as though a maze by nature. ....2

    Which makes sense, 1 or 2 or neither?
    According to the post #2, I think only 2 is correct.


    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I don't think that there is any generally understood difference between the maze and labyrinth.

    [I wonder about the wording though. Do you mean that the forest is like a labyrinth/maze made by nature? Or do you mean that it has the nature of a labyrinth/maze? If the second, you might say "in nature".

    Here is a relevant thread: by nature/in nature.]


    Senior Member
    Born and raised in Japón, soy japonés
    To me "labyrinth" sounds more fairytalish than maze.


    "Maze" sounds more nightmarish, maybe because I read A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick.


    Senior Member
    Thank you, Cagey, I got it.
    What I wanted to say was "made by nature" version.

    And I've learned the difference of the two.

    Yet I still wonder, after thinking a while, after philosophical consideration,
    "by nature" and "in nature" are saying the same thing in nature. ;)
    As I'm not a philosopher, forget about it.


    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Volky was right in Post #2 :D Although many use them interchangeably, there is a large group of people who distinguish the words as suggested.

    Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has two "labyrinths" and has this to say about them. The page has pictures.
    The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world....

    The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives....
    For an image of the Chartres Labyrinth see here While acknowledging that dictionaries see them as largely synonymous, that site, ( has this to say
    Popular consensus also indicates that labyrinths have one pathway that leads inexorably from the entrance to the goal, albeit often by the most complex and winding of routes. These unicursal designs have been known as labyrinths for thousands of years, and to qualify as a labyrinth, a design should have but one path.
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