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Hypocrite vs. Sanctimonious: What's the Difference?

By Janet White || Published on October 16, 2023
A hypocrite is someone who pretends to have virtues or moral standards they do not possess; sanctimonious describes a show of false piety or righteousness.

Key Differences

A hypocrite is an individual who claims to uphold certain beliefs or principles but acts in ways that contradict them. On the other hand, someone sanctimonious expresses an insincere show of holiness or righteousness, often looking down on others.
While both words deal with insincerity, a hypocrite might pretend to be someone they are not, hiding their true actions or beliefs. In contrast, sanctimonious individuals wear their fake piety openly, often appearing smug or self-righteous.
Being a hypocrite focuses on the discrepancy between one's proclaimed values and their actions. Being sanctimonious emphasizes a feigned appearance of moral superiority.
One can argue that a sanctimonious person is also a hypocrite because they pretend to be more righteous than they truly are. However, not all hypocrites are sanctimonious, as some might not display overt moral superiority.

Comparison Chart

Primary Meaning

Pretending to have virtues not actually held
Making a show of false righteousness or piety


Discrepancy between beliefs and actions
Feigned moral superiority


Describes a person's character or actions
Describes a person's attitude or demeanor

Associated Behavior

Hiding true beliefs or actions
Displaying overt and insincere piety


Can be sanctimonious but not always
Always embodies hypocritical elements

Hypocrite and Sanctimonious Definitions


An individual who acts contrary to their stated beliefs.
He's a hypocrite for preaching honesty while lying to everyone.


Acting morally superior without genuine merit.
His sanctimonious speeches were hard to listen to given his actions.


Someone insincere in their virtues.
He's such a hypocrite, lecturing about kindness but never practicing it.


Exhibiting false piety or righteousness.
Her sanctimonious attitude was off-putting to many.


Someone who pretends to be what they're not.
She's a hypocrite, advocating for environmental causes while using excessive plastic.


Feigning virtue or high principles.
He had a sanctimonious way of criticizing everyone's mistakes.


A person whose actions don't align with their words.
Calling others selfish while never helping out makes him a hypocrite.


Making a hypocritical show of religious devotion.
It's sanctimonious to pray loudly in public while disregarding morals in private.


An individual feigning moral standards.
It's hypocritical to judge others for their choices while hiding one's own flaws.


Behaving with sanctimony
A sanctimonious politician who was proven to be a hypocrite.


A person given to hypocrisy.


Characterized by sanctimony
"The history we brandish as a light to nations is largely a sanctimonious tissue of myth and self-infatuation" (Benjamin Schwartz).


Someone who practices hypocrisy, who pretends to hold beliefs, or whose actions are not consistent with their claimed beliefs.


Making a show of being morally better than others, especially hypocritically pious.


One who plays a part; especially, one who, for the purpose of winning approbation of favor, puts on a fair outside seeming; one who feigns to be other and better than he is; a false pretender to virtue or piety; one who simulates virtue or piety.
The hypocrite's hope shall perish.
I dare swear he is no hypocrite, but prays from his heart.


(archaic) Holy, devout.


A person who professes beliefs and opinions that he does not hold


Possessing sanctimony; holy; sacred; saintly.


Making a show of sanctity; affecting saintliness; hypocritically devout or pious.


Excessively or hypocritically pious;
A sickening sanctimonious smile


Pretending to be holier than one truly is.
The way she spoke in a sanctimonious tone made it hard to take her seriously.


What is the main difference between a hypocrite and being sanctimonious?

A hypocrite's actions contradict their stated beliefs, while someone sanctimonious displays false righteousness.

Does sanctimonious have religious connotations?

While it can refer to false religious devotion, it's also used in secular contexts to describe feigned moral superiority.

Can a person be both a hypocrite and sanctimonious?

Yes, a person can pretend to have virtues (hypocrite) and show false piety (sanctimonious).

Can someone be unintentionally sanctimonious?

Yes, someone might come off as sanctimonious without intending to seem morally superior.

Why is being a hypocrite criticized?

Hypocrisy is seen as insincere, causing mistrust or disillusionment in others.

Is being a hypocrite always intentional?

Not always; sometimes individuals might not be aware of their own contradictions.

Is it always wrong to be a hypocrite?

While generally viewed negatively, situations might arise where individuals' actions contradict their beliefs for various reasons.

Does being sanctimonious imply looking down on others?

Often, yes. It suggests a show of moral superiority, often at the expense of others.

Can a sanctimonious person be genuine in their beliefs?

They might be genuine in their beliefs, but their display of those beliefs is exaggerated or insincere.

Is there a difference between being a hypocrite and having double standards?

They're related. Having double standards can be a form of hypocrisy if one's standards are applied insincerely.

Can organizations be hypocritical or sanctimonious?

Yes, organizations can proclaim certain values and act otherwise or present themselves as morally superior without merit.

What's a synonym for hypocrite?

"Pretender" or "deceiver" are synonyms for hypocrite.

How is a sanctimonious attitude perceived in society?

Typically, sanctimonious attitudes are not well-received, as they come off as insincere and judgmental.

Can a person be called a hypocrite for changing their beliefs?

Not necessarily; evolving beliefs doesn't make one hypocritical unless they pretend to hold views they've abandoned.

Is sanctimonious always a negative term?

Generally, yes. It implies a fake display of righteousness.

What's the origin of the word "hypocrite"?

It derives from the Greek word "hypokrites" meaning "an actor or pretender."

Can one accuse another of being a hypocrite without evidence?

It's essential to have valid reasons before labeling someone a hypocrite to avoid unfair judgments.

What's an example of sanctimonious behavior?

Criticizing someone for a minor offense while pretending to have impeccable morals is sanctimonious.

How can one avoid being sanctimonious?

By being sincere in one's beliefs and not feigning moral superiority over others.

What can cause a person to become sanctimonious?

A desire to appear morally superior or a lack of self-awareness can lead to sanctimonious behavior.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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