sanc·​ti·​mo·​nious ˌsaŋ(k)-tə-ˈmō-nē-əs How to pronounce sanctimonious (audio)
: hypocritically pious or devout
a sanctimonious moralist
the king's sanctimonious rebukeG. B. Shaw
obsolete : possessing sanctity : holy
sanctimoniously adverb
sanctimoniousness noun

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How Shakespeare Used Sanctimonious

There's nothing sacred about "sanctimonious"—at least not any more. But in the early 1600s, the English adjective was still sometimes used to describe someone truly holy or pious (a sense that recalls the meaning of the word's Latin parent, sanctimonia). Shakespeare used both the "holy" and "holier-than-thou" senses in his work, referring in The Tempest to the "sanctimonious" (that is, "holy") ceremonies of marriage, and in Measure for Measure to describe "the sanctimonious pirate that went to sea with the Ten Commandments but scraped one out of the table." (Apparently, the pirate found the restriction on stealing a bit too inconvenient.)

Examples of sanctimonious in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Both moments are a shock to the sanctimonious, liberal-racist Hollywood system. Armond White, National Review, 27 Mar. 2024 But after a whiny Netflix documentary, a whiny biography (‘Spare’ — even the title is a pouty gripe) and an inert podcast, the Harry and Meghan brand swelled into a sanctimonious bubble just begging to be popped — and ‘South Park’ was the pin. Martha Ross, The Mercury News, 8 Jan. 2024 See all Example Sentences for sanctimonious 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sanctimonious.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1603, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sanctimonious was in 1603


Dictionary Entries Near sanctimonious

Cite this Entry

“Sanctimonious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: pretending to be devoted
sanctimoniously adverb
sanctimoniousness noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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