\ 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 + forHe 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 fora crime that must be atoned for
2 obsolete : reconcile

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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 In a tie game, and the power play 0 for 3 to that point, DeBrusk atoned., "With two Sabres rushing him in the defensive zone, Patrice Bergeron slipped a smart feed up the ice, behind Jack Eichel, to Marchand. The winger split another pair of Sabres with his feed to a streaking Pastrnak. The league’s leading goal-scorer beat Ullmark with a heavy wrister.," 30 Dec. 2019 Because atoning at Edgewood is as heavenly as Heavenly. Jordan Riefe, Orange County Register, "Have a sinfully good time at Heavenly’s winter wonderland," 25 Nov. 2019 The West resolved to become a model liberal democracy, atoning for Nazi crimes and subjugating national interests to those of a post-nationalist Europe. Katrin Bennhold, New York Times, "Germany Has Been Unified for 30 Years. Its Identity Still Is Not.," 9 Nov. 2019 The United States, in contrast, has no official policy of atoning for slavery. Bernd Reiter, Quartz, "What US slavery reparations and post-Holocaust Germany have in common," 2 Aug. 2019 For Christians, the belief that God came into the world in the form of a man to atone for the sins of humanity is the purpose in celebrating Christmas. The Rev. Ellin Dize,, "Dize: Jesus is the reason for the season and Christmas is an inclusive holiday," 30 Nov. 2019 Japanese firms have got better at dealing with Chinese grievances over Japan’s failure to atone for its wartime occupation of parts of China, when firms such as Mitsubishi Materials forced Chinese labourers to toil in Japanese mines. The Economist, "Japan Inc has thrived in China of late," 9 Nov. 2019 But the big running back soon atoned for his mistake., "Most read on," 14 Oct. 2019 This early exemplar of thematic dining — which lured Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Lana Turner and James Dean — attempts to atone for having long peddled an oblivious Oriental minstrelsy of Dragon Ladies and Fu Manchu beards. Gary Baum, The Hollywood Reporter, "Formosa Cafe: Dining Review," 23 Aug. 2019

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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Time Traveler for atone

Time Traveler

The first known use of atone was in 1574

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Last Updated

24 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Atone.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 28 January 2020.

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More Definitions for atone


How to pronounce atone (audio)

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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More from Merriam-Webster on atone

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with atone

Spanish Central: Translation of atone

Britannica English: Translation of atone for Arabic Speakers

Comments on atone

What made you want to look up atone? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


showing steady, earnest care and effort

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