Blog Grammar Rules Sanctimonious: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

Sanctimonious: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

Hannah Yang

Hannah Yang

Speculative Fiction Author

Published Nov 28, 2022

sanctimonious

Using uncommon words like sanctimonious can help make your writing sound more sophisticated. So what does sanctimonious mean, and how do you use it in a sentence?

Essentially, sanctimonious is an adjective that describes someone who’s hypocritically pious. This article will explain the meaning of sanctimonious in more detail and show you examples of how you can use it in your writing.

Contents:
  1. Sanctimonious Definition and Meaning
  2. Origin of Sanctimonious
  3. Examples of Sanctimonious Used in Sentences
  4. Synonyms for Sanctimonious

Sanctimonious Definition and Meaning

Sanctimonious is an adjective that means “making a hypocritical show of being morally superior to other people.”

We say that someone is sanctimonious if they pretend to be more ethical and pious than everyone else when they’re actually no better than those around them.

For example, you might say someone is a sanctimonious politician if he attacks all his competitors for committing tax fraud, while simultaneously refusing to pay his own taxes.

sanctimonious definition

Origin of Sanctimonious

Originally, sanctimonious came from the Latin word sānctimōnia, which meant “sanctity” or “virtuousness.” Back then, there was no negative connotation to the word sanctimonious—it just described someone who was genuinely holy or pious.

In the 17th century, the word still had its “holy” meaning, but it also started to acquire its “holier-than-thou” meaning.

For example, Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure includes a line about a “sanctimonious pirate that went to sea with the Ten Commandments but scraped one out of the table,” referring to a pirate who preached to others while still stealing whatever he wanted.

Examples of Sanctimonious Used in Sentences

One prominent example of sanctimonious you may have seen in the news is that Donald Trump recently nicknamed Ron DeSantis, a Republican contender for the 2024 presidential elections, “Ron DeSanctimonious.” Trump used this negative nickname to try to get people to see DeSantis as a hypocrite.

Here are some other examples of sanctimonious in sentences from news articles and books.

“What do you say to those non-smokers who are particularly sanctimonious about your habit?”—The Guardian

“The British press at its worst is intrusive, sanctimonious and spiteful.”—The Economist

“Novak Djokovic would be absolutely hammered by the media and sanctimonious mob.”—Sportskeeda

“Anger is the go-to feeling for most people because it’s outward-directed—angrily blaming others can feel deliciously sanctimonious.”—Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

“Every good quality runs into a defect; economy borders on avarice, the generous are not far from the prodigal, the brave man is close to the bully; he who is very pious is slightly sanctimonious; there are just as many vices to virtue as there are holes in the mantle of Diogenes.”—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“Acting all sanctimonious while spouting bad info was a terrible way to win a debate, but a great way to piss people off.”—Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Synonyms for Sanctimonious

Common synonyms for sanctimonious include self-righteous, holier-than-thou, and moralizing.

ProWritingAid’s Word Explorer can help you find the perfect synonym for sanctimonious, or for any other word. Simply click on the word you want to replace, and then click on Word Explorer, which will show you related words.

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Hannah Yang

Hannah Yang

Speculative Fiction Author

Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on hannahyang.com or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.

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