\ ə-ˈtōn How to pronounce atone (audio) \
atoned; atoning

Definition of atone

intransitive verb

: to make amends : to provide or serve as reparation or compensation for something bad or unwelcome usually + for He wanted to atone for his sins.But I think that he has within him a capacity for love, and an unselfishness, which almost atones for his dishonesty.— Anthony Trollope

transitive verb

1 : to make reparation or supply satisfaction for : expiate used in the passive voice with for a crime that must be atoned for
2 obsolete : reconcile

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Synonyms for atone


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Did You Know?

Atone comes to us from the combination in Middle English of at and on, the latter of which is an old variant of one. Together they meant "in harmony." (In current English, we use at one with a similar suggestion of harmony in such phrases as "at one with nature.") When it first entered English, atone meant "to reconcile and suggested the restoration of a peaceful and harmonious state between people or groups." These days the verb specifically implies addressing the damage (or disharmony) caused by one's own behavior.

Examples of atone in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Walker said white people living now should not have to atone for the actions of their ancestors. Stephanie Toone, ajc, "Herschel Walker argues ‘reparations teaches separation’ in Wednesday hearing," 17 Feb. 2021 But the display of piety has done little to mask that the army chief has much to atone for. New York Times, "Myanmar’s Army Is Back in Charge. It Never Truly Left.," 2 Feb. 2021 Such restraint is admittedly difficult because almost all congressional Republicans (with the exception of Mitt Romney and the late John McCain) have much to atone for during the Trump years. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, "The Case for Biden to Muddle Through America’s Political Crisis," 28 Dec. 2020 Then in a cruel twist of fate, that was all interrupted — the extreme sports, as well as the life of service, trying to atone for a tragic accident 25 years ago. Lori Riley,, "‘This is about the power of love and caring’: Over $40K raised for East Hartford gym teacher battling rare disease amid life of service, atonement," 28 Dec. 2020 Attorney General William Barr has at least been attempting to atone for the FBI’s and Justice Department’s scurrilous behavior during the 2016 campaign and after Mr. Trump’s election. Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ, "Judge Sullivan’s Final ‘Verdict’," 10 Dec. 2020 In recent years, the French government has attempted to atone for its colonial wrongdoings by repatriating artifacts looted from Africa. Isis Davis-marks, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Little-Known Story of Madagascar’s Last Queen, Ranavalona III," 8 Dec. 2020 To Garrett, the extension was a way to give back more and atone for his mistake. cleveland, "How Myles Garrett pondered quitting football after Mason Rudolph, became a better man, and wants to clear the air with the QB," 9 Sep. 2020 Rams quarterback Jared Goff has a chance to atone for a rough 19-for-38, 198-yard performance against San Francisco. Mark Heim |, al, "49ers vs. Rams live stream (11/29): How to watch NFL Week 12 online, TV, time," 29 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'atone.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of atone

1574, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 2

History and Etymology for atone

Middle English, to become reconciled, from at on in harmony, from at + on one

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Last Updated

23 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Atone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for atone



English Language Learners Definition of atone

formal : to do something good as a way to show that you are sorry about doing something bad


\ ə-ˈtōn How to pronounce atone (audio) \
atoned; atoning

Kids Definition of atone

: to do something to make up for a wrong … her grandmother watched over her with untiring devotion, as if trying to atone for some past mistake …— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

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Britannica English: Translation of atone for Arabic Speakers

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