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How To Use "Censor," "Sensor," & "Censer" (Plus "Censure")

In this post, I'm going to explain how to use three homophones: the common words censor and sensor, plus the less common word censer. I'll also touch on the similar-sounding word censure, which is related to (but distinct from) censor. As is so often the case, the key to telling these words apart is to learn their roots, so I'll focus on each term's root—with reference to another common word that shares each root. For censor and censure, think of the word "census"; for sensor, think of "sense"; and for censer, think of "incense."

How to Use "Censor," "Sensor," and "Censer"

Censor and Censure (Think "Census")

The words censor and censure come from the Latin censere, meaning "appraise" or "judge." This Latin root gave us the original meaning of "censor": a title that referred to a government official who not only conducted the census (or population count) but also supervised the morality of the citizenry. You can see how the meaning of "appraising" came to be associated with this job.


The connotation of moral judgment gives us the modern words censor and censure. In the case of censor, this manifests in a meaning related to the restriction of communication. A censor is someone who monitors communications and removes any references to acts or concepts that are considered immoral or inappropriate; to censor is to similarly interfere with communications, though not always with a moral aspect. A person can also censor themself (avoid saying something inappropriate). Here are some examples of all these meanings:

In the novel, government censors burn books to restrict the spread of information. The comedian refused to censor himself, thus earning a reputation for inappropriateness. Soldiers' letters home are often censored to prevent the release of military secrets.

As for censure, it refers to a formal judgment that someone has violated a moral code or to the act of making such a judgment. Here are some example sentences for each of these uses:

The senators each received a censure for instigating a brawl in the senate chamber. The principal threatened to censure any teacher who undermined her authority.

You can remember these words' meanings by relating them to "census"; they all start with "c" and have a an "o" or "u" after the "s." Just remember that censor and censure both usually add a moral component to the sense of "appraisal" inherent in "census."


If you are having trouble keeping censor and censure straight, I'd recommend starting with the suffixes. First, the "-or" in censor refers to a person or object that does something, and only censor can refer to a person (i.e., one who engages in censorship); second, the "-ure" in censure refers to the result of an act, which fits with that word's meaning (i.e., a type of punishment).


Sensor (Think "Sense")

The word sensor comes from the Latin sentire, meaning "to feel." It typically refers to a device that responds to a physical stimulus (such as heat, light, motion, weight, smoke, or moisture). These days, most sensors are digital and produce data for a computer to process, but analog sensors also exist. The resulting data can trigger an alarm or can just be gathered for analysis. Common sensors include smoke detectors and the motion detectors that automatically open doors to public buildings. Here are some example sentences:

The security system features a network of heat and motion sensors to detect intruders. Modern airplanes are largely automated thanks to dozens of advanced sensors.

It's pretty easy to relate this word to the concept of a "sense" or of "sensation." Note that the words with these meanings all start with "s"; this should help you keep them straight.

Censer (Think "Incense")

Finally, we have the less common word censer, which comes from a French word for incense; that French word in turn goes back to the Latin word incensum, which means "that which is burnt" (related to the verb indendere, meaning "to set on fire"). A censer is an object that holds incense as it burns. Many cultures have their own versions; they are often highly decorative and used in ceremonial occasions. In Christianity in particular, censers are commonly attached to chains and are (gently) swung around to spread the smoke from incense throughout a church. Here are a couple example sentences:

The Maya produced elaborately painted and jeweled censers for religious purification. I enjoyed the smell emanating from the censer, but the smoke made me cough.

The relation between censer and "incense" would be obvious if it weren't for the other, similarly spelled words that we've discussed in this post. The key here is actually the "e" that comes after the "s" in both words; that is a dead giveaway that you are talking about something burning and not communications or sensations.


That's all for this post! Please let me know if you need any additional explanation, or if you have suggestions of particularly difficult homonyms that I can help with. You can leave a comment below or email me at info@elevationediting.com. Thank you for reading, and please visit ElevationEditing.com the next time you need high-quality editing services.

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