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  1. The birds' nests are high up, safe/secure from predators.
  2. These elephants are relatively secure/safe from poachers.
  3. Make sure you keep these documents safe/secure.
  4. Keep your credit cards in a safe/secure place.
  5. I always feel safe/secure when I'm around my big dog.

What's the difference between safe and secure in these examples?

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See Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms, pp. 707-708. –  Alex B. May 27 '12 at 15:32
    
If your native language is Romance, be aware that many Romance languages use a cognate of "secure" more broadly, in many of which cases English would use "safe". –  Mechanical snail May 27 '12 at 22:57

4 Answers 4

I found this usage note:

Safe and secure, now nearly synonymous, used to be more different; secure was subjective —- man's own sense of the absence of danger —- while safe was objective, the fact of such absence of danger.

I think in your examples, you could pretty much use either word. However, I personally would choose the following, based on the fact that humans didn't do anything to do the securing in Sentences 1, 2, and possibly 5, but they would take steps to make the documents and credit cards safe from loss (secure) in Sentences 3 and 4:

  1. The birds' nests are high up, safe from predators.

  2. These elephants are relatively safe from poachers.

  3. Make sure you keep these documents secure.

  4. Keep your credit cards in a secure place.

  5. I always feel safe when I'm around my big dog. (If you bought the big dog to make yourself feel secure, then I could also see using secure in this sentence.)

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1  
I like this answer. Nowadays, we often talk about "security" (information security, e.g.), so "secure" seems to work well when the primary danger is theft, while "safe" seems to work better when the threat is to one's well-being. –  J.R. May 27 '12 at 9:43
    
@JLG:Many thanks for your comment. The example "These elephants are relatively secure from poachers." is from online dictionary. Could you explain the difference between safe and secure here? –  atsea May 28 '12 at 1:05
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Maybe the elephants were moved by humans to a secure site where poachers can't get at them? I'm not sure. –  JLG May 28 '12 at 4:29
1  
The difference is extremely subtle, but I'd take "secure from poachers" to mean the poachers wouldn't be able to perform the illegal activity, while "safe from poachers" would be speaking more toward the elephants' welfare. From the elephant's perspective, though, the end result is the same. What's more, synonyms have enough overlapping meaning that, although the two words aren't always be interchangeable in every instance, there are usually plenty of examples where either word could be used just fine. –  J.R. May 28 '12 at 4:55

There is really no pronounced difference between safe and secure. But it is interesting to note their etymologies.

Safe: OFr sauf, Latin salvus

Secure: Latin sēcūrus, from -without and cūra - care

It is clear that secure had a different root, originally meaning "without care". Today these words overlap very much and the distinction is hardly perceived in daily usage.

That said, I would go with @JLG's answers for the usage in your sentences. Secure is commonly used with documents (it's financial security and not financial safety, for example). As such secure is slightly more powerful than safety when it comes to describing the extent of protection.

  1. The birds' nests are high up, safe from predators.
  2. These elephants are relatively secure from poachers.
  3. Make sure you keep these documents secure.
  4. Keep your credit cards in a secure place.
  5. I always feel safe when I'm around my big dog.
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Safe means that the condition is protected. Car safety = safety belt, airbar, etc.

Secure means only people allowed by the owner are able to access it. Car security = lock, alarm, gps tracking, etc.

Secure means it cannot be stolen. Like passwords, or money. Safe means it cannot be destroyed. Like health.. Or a painting is safer in the right conditions, like perfect humidity...

Safe location = you will not be killed here. Secure location = you will not overheard here. It's OK, to talk.

If both is important, or we talk about organizations, we usually use the word security. Airport secutiry, building secutirty, national security, secure location (in military... it means safe too)

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THere is an overlap between the meaning of safe and secure. You have identified some meanings to secure which tend not to be conveyed by safe but I think you are being too binary about it. Security, after all, has a significant emotional/psychological set of meanings beyond the technical areas you have mentioned (think of the most common meaning of "Insecure"). And I dispute completely your association of protected with safe but not security. I'd say protected is more relevant to military/computing security than to safety. –  itsbruce Nov 21 at 11:43

Safe and Secure mean the same thing. It is safe to say this response will be deleted. I am secure in knowing this response will be deleted.

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