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ton·​sure ˈtän(t)-shər How to pronounce tonsure (audio)
: the Roman Catholic or Eastern rite of admission to the clerical state by the clipping or shaving of a portion of the head
: the shaven crown or patch worn by monks and other clerics
: a bald spot resembling a tonsure


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tonsured; tonsuring ˈtän(t)-sh(ə-)riŋ How to pronounce tonsure (audio)

transitive verb

: to shave the head of
especially : to confer the tonsure upon

Examples of tonsure in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Bun’s charge is the friendly white guy with the belly and the tonsure. Han Ong, The New Yorker, 16 Oct. 2023 Atwood's attorney, Joseph Perkovich, said the department complied with the injunction, and allowed religious advisers to visit Atwood on Tuesday morning to perform a ceremony, known as a tonsure, involving cutting a lock of his hair and making Atwood a monk. Chelsea Curtis, The Arizona Republic, 8 June 2022 His Semitic features suggested intelligence, but his shambling gait and inattention to his tonsure and sartorial presence suggested a man under extraordinary stress. Washington Post, 6 Aug. 2021 Instead, its hair is black, like mine, and raggedly scuttles onto his forehead like the tonsure of a Tibetan yak left out in the rain. Washington Post, 9 July 2020

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

Word History



Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin tonsura, from Latin, act of shearing, from tonsus, past participle of tondēre to shear — more at tome

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1706, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tonsure was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near tonsure

Cite this Entry

“Tonsure.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a haircut with the top of the head shaved worn especially by monks


Middle English tonsure "the act of shaving a part of the top of the head," derived from Latin tonsura "the act of shearing," from tonsus, past participle of tondēre "to shear"

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