censor vs. sensor vs. censure  

What is the difference between censor and sensor?

The word censor was originally a noun referring to a magistrate who oversaw and upheld moral standards. In modern times, it means “a person authorized to examine various media, such as books, plays, and films, and suppress or expurgate vulgar, obscene, or otherwise objectionable content.” Early in the 19th century, this use was extended to a verb meaning “to suppress or remove objectionable material.” Here are some examples:
  • “The experimental film never left the country due to the strict oversight of the state’s censor.”
  • “The book, heavily censored upon its initial release, was republished in its entirety this year.”
  • “It came to light that upper management had been censoring employees’ reports.”
The homophone sensor, however, is only a noun, derived from the word sense. It uses the suffix of agency “-or” to mean “a device that senses and responds to signals or other physical stimuli,” as in:
  • “Most phones now have sensors that determine how bright the screen should be.”

Spelling Tricks and Tips

We can remember the difference between these two spellings more easily by keeping in mind that sensor comes from sense. If what we’re talking about doesn’t have anything to do with sensing, then the correct spelling will likely be censor.

censure

There is also a third term with a similar spelling and pronunciation: censure. Like censor, this word can be a noun (meaning “a severe rebuke or an expression of strong disapproval”) or a verb (meaning “to express such a rebuke or disapproval”), as in:
  • “Following a review of the case, the committee concluded that no censure was necessary.”
  • “After being censured by the advisory board, Professor Keating considered an early retirement.”
However, censure has a slightly different pronunciation than censor or sensor: /ˈsɛnʃər/ (SEN-sher). Censor and sensor, on the other hand, are both pronounced /ˈsɛnsər/ (SEN-ser).
Quiz

1. Choose the sentence in which censor is the correct spelling.





2. Choose the sentence in which sensor is the correct spelling.





3. Choose the sentence in which censure is the correct spelling.





4. Which of these words is pronounced differently than the other two?




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