Interment Basics: Guide to Meaning and Options

Published September 18, 2020
people at interment burial

Understanding the interment definition and when it is an appropriate choice can help you make decisions when a loved one dies. A grieving person struggles to make the proper decision honoring their loved one, while the professional strives to fulfill the family's wishes. Discover the interment definition and when interment is appropriate.

Interment Meaning Versus Inurnment Definition

The word interment predates inurnment by about 300 years.

Interment Definition

Interment denotes placing the remains of the deceased human or animal into the ground. The word is used to talk about an earthly burial. Part of the word can be seen in the Latin word terra, which means earth. We get the English words terrestrial and terrace from this root.

  • Technically, the word refers to a burial beneath the surface of the ground. A cemetery plot would be a good example. A crypt, underground room, or vault was often created beneath churches to be used for interment.
  • Burial in the ground is not a requirement for use of the term interment. An interment can be made in a sarcophagus, a mausoleum, or a tomb above the ground. Above ground tombs are common in places like New Orleans.
  • It is also correct to say that a cremated individual's inurned remains were later interred. This would mean that the remains in the urn were eventually buried in a gravesite or in a place above the ground.
coffin at a cemetery

The Meaning of Inurnment

The word inurn means to place the cremated remains of the deceased human or animal into an urn. It has become a popular word as the number of cremations has increased. The meaning of inurnment can easily be remembered because the word "urn" is found within the word.

  • Although the word has increased in usage since cremations have become more popular in the United States, it goes back to the turn of the 17th century. William Shakespeare used the word in one of his most famous works, Hamlet, in 1602.
  • The word commonly refers to housing cremated ashes in an urn, but some cultures today are disinterring the non-cremated remains of the deceased and carefully packing the bones into a large urn. Technically, this process is also an inurnment.

What Does Interment Mean at a Funeral?

There are many options to lay to rest a body permanently, whether it is to be buried or cremated. Burial options for interment include:

Options for the final resting place for a cremated body include:

The options include both in-ground and above ground burials. Every option is not available everywhere, so check with a funeral director to determine your best choices.

Traditional Burial

In a traditional burial in a cemetery, the body is embalmed and placed in a casket prior to the funeral. Before the burial, the grave is dug and either a grave liner or burial vault is placed in the grave. After a committal service, the casket is lowered into the grave. The grounds crew of the cemetery will fill the grave with soil. A grave marker is added to the location for identification and memorial.

people at a funeral in a cemetery


An above-ground memorial building to house caskets is called a mausoleum. Inside the building are ways to commemorate the loved ones, including plaques and places for vases of flowers. In addition to protecting from the elements of weather, the mausoleum provides a way to conserve ground and space. There are both community and private mausoleums.

Mausoleum in Streatham Park Cemetery

Lawn Crypt

A lawn crypt is an underground mausoleum. Usually made of concrete, the crypt uses a drainage system to protect the content from ground waters. Many times families will be buried together, but it is certainly not a requirement.

Natural or Green Burial

A natural burial allows the body to decompose over time. A natural or green burial excludes any type of embalming. The cemetery grounds have to be specially designed and certified for green burial.


An option for a cremated body includes a columbarium. Columbaria are designed with many small compartments called niches. Each niche holds an individual urn. The niche usually includes a place for a memorial plaque and is large enough to hold a vase of flowers.

Columbarium at a cemetery

Urn Burial

After cremation, bodies are inurned using an urn. Many families then choose to bury the urn rather than keep it in a home. Many religions prohibit keeping an urn in the house. Some cemeteries have urn gardens, while others simply offer a burial plot where an urn is used instead of a casket.

urn burial


Traditions of burial or scattering ashes at sea no longer exist, but there are still special places where you can scatter the ashes of your loved ones. Scattering gardens are designated spaces where ashes can be scattered. Many cemeteries provide these areas close by and have a means for adding a permanent marker remembering the loved one.

Scattering Cremated Ashes

The Meaning of Internment

Sometimes people mistakenly use the word "internment" for either inurnment or interment. People arrested for committing a crime and then placed in jail are considered interned. Someone mourning the death of a loved one would likely cringe if heard their cousin has been "interned" last night. Using the words correctly helps build a spirit of comfort and support for the bereaved during their time of loss.

Interment Basics: Guide to Meaning and Options