\ 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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Despite having one of the most impressive squads in the tournament on paper, Joachim Löw's side simply haven't been able to live up to their high expectations, and will have a long four-year wait to atone for their shoddy performances in Russia., "Arsenal's Mesut Özil Embroiled in Furious Row With Germany Supporters After Dramatic World Cup Exit," 28 June 2018 Batshuayi got his second goal almost immediately afterward, with Pulisic atoning for his mistake with the assist. USA TODAY, "Michy Batshuayi scores twice in Borussia Dortmund debut," 2 Feb. 2018 Connelly is a man with a chip on his shoulder, determined to atone for the sins of his father, a disgraced policeman. Noel Murray,, "Crime drama 'The Assassin's Code' is strictly by the book," 9 May 2018 Johnson attempted to atone for his wartime actions by designing the Kneses Tifereth synagogue in Port Chester, N.Y., for free. Alex Beam, WSJ, "‘The Man in the Glass House’ Review: Throwing Stones at Philip Johnson," 2 Nov. 2018 First, Vertonghen atoned for his error with a strange looping header that floated just over Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, and then the substitutes began to make their presence felt. Tariq Panja, New York Times, "World Cup 2018: Belgium Shocks Japan With Stunning Rally," 4 July 2018 An Iranian court has ordered Shaparak Shajarizadeh, a 43-year-old woman from Tehran, to spend the next 20 years atoning for an act that shouldn’t be a crime. Roberto González And Prachi Vidwans, WSJ, "Two Years in Prison for Doffing a Scarf," 2 Aug. 2018 Here’s the story of how McCain, one of the most vocal opponents of torture, capitulated for political gain, right when his voice was needed the most — and why his recent attempt to atone for his sins is too little, too late. Jennifer Williams, Vox, "Sen. John McCain’s complicated moral legacy on torture," 26 Aug. 2018 These scenarios have ignited a conversation about how men atone for inappropriate behavior. Julyssa Lopez, Glamour, "People Are Not OK With Louis C.K.'s Return to Comedy After #MeToo Allegations," 28 Aug. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about atone

Listen to Our Podcast about atone

Statistics for atone

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for atone

The first known use of atone was in 1574

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


behavior toward others

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!