\ə-ˈtōn \
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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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

Perhaps making renewable energy a pillar of its new strategy is an attempt to atone for that sin. Hallie Detrick, Fortune, "After Months of Selling Off Many of Its Businesses, What's Left of General Electric?," 26 June 2018 The first wave of lawsuits to make oil companies atone for their alleged climate sins was beaten back this week by federal Judge William Alsup. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "A Climate Shakedown Flops," 29 June 2018 Messi, desperate to atone for his spot-kick failure, rifled a shot from just atop the edge of the box, presumably aiming for the top-left corner, but the ball zinged just wide., "Argentina 1-1 Iceland: Messi and Co Stunned by Steely Icelandic Side in World Cup Opener," 16 June 2018 Suddenly, out of nowhere, Everton found a lifeline in the 63rd minute, with Bolasie partially atoning for his earlier howler with a fine finish from the edge of the box., "Everton 1-3 Man City: Visitors Sweep Toffees Aside As Premier League Title Edges Closer," 31 Mar. 2018 Ignashevich atoned for his earlier error by slotting one home, before goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev wrote his name into national sporting folklore. Martin Rogers, USA TODAY, "Whatever happens, Vladimir Putin is winning the World Cup," 1 July 2018 But Serena still hasn’t atoned for her role in the rape, and any evolution on her part has always led, eventually, to a double-down backlash. Isaiah 49:25. Rena Gross, Billboard, "'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 2, Episode 12 Recap: 15 Reactions to 'Postpartum'," 4 July 2018 For many conservative Evangelicals, the focus is more upon the atoning blood of Christ and the price paid for the forgiveness of sins. Harry Bruinius, The Christian Science Monitor, "In Plains, Ga., an evangelical politician like no other," 11 July 2018 Brazilian players are trying to atone for the 7-1 humiliation against Germany in the semifinals at home four years ago. Ronald Blum,, "European and South American teams dominate World Cup Round of 16," 28 June 2018

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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Statistics for atone

Last Updated

31 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for atone

The first known use of atone was in 1574

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More Definitions for atone



English Language Learners Definition of atone

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


\ə-ˈtōn \
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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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).


obstinately defiant of authority

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