\ 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

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 Athens, like Providence, seeks to atone for the razing of the Black neighborhood of Linnentown to make way for University of Georgia dormitories and parking lots in the 1960s. Philip Marcelo, Chicago Tribune, 6 May 2022 On the campaign trail, Mr. Vance has sought to atone for his past negative comments about Mr. Trump. New York Times, 3 May 2022 After the Volkswagen emissions scandal put all diesels—even the majority that were not gaming the tailpipe tests—under a dark cloud, the German automakers jumped onto the EV bandwagon in an attempt to atone for their real and imagined sins. Csaba Csere, Car and Driver, 2 May 2022 The report came with a pledge from the university to atone for its wrongs, although there is debate around what form that should take. Collin Binkley And Michael Melia, The Christian Science Monitor, 29 Apr. 2022 This fund is not Harvard's first attempt to atone for its historic ties to slavery, nor was Tuesday's report the first attempt to investigate them. Grayson Quay, The Week, 28 Apr. 2022 Harvard pledged $100 million to atone for its role in slavery. Los Angeles Times, 27 Apr. 2022 The program is meant to atone for the history of racial redlining and housing discrimination., 1 Apr. 2022 From discussions about critical race theory in schools to Black Live Matter protests to films and television shows in development, Till, and his mother Mamie, have sparked action intended to atone for this country’s past deeds. Kevin L. Clark, Essence, 2 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near atone



at one's age

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Last Updated

18 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Atone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for atone


\ 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

More from Merriam-Webster on atone

Britannica English: Translation of atone for Arabic Speakers


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