Definition of atone
- 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
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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.
: to do something good as a way to show that you are sorry about doing something bad
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