ex·​on·​er·​ate ig-ˈzä-nə-ˌrāt How to pronounce exonerate (audio)
exonerated; exonerating

transitive verb

: to relieve of a responsibility, obligation, or hardship
: to clear from accusation or blame
exoneration noun
exonerative adjective

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Where does exonerate come from?

Exonerate comes from the Latin verb exonerare, meaning "to unburden." That verb combines the prefix ex- with onus, meaning "load" or "burden." In its earliest uses, exonerate was applied to physical burdens—a ship, for example, could be exonerated of its cargo when it was unloaded. Later it was used in reference to the freeing of any kind of burden, including blame or charges of wrongdoing.

Choose the Right Synonym for exonerate

exculpate, absolve, exonerate, acquit, vindicate mean to free from a charge.

exculpate implies a clearing from blame or fault often in a matter of small importance.

exculpating himself from the charge of overenthusiasm

absolve implies a release either from an obligation that binds the conscience or from the consequences of disobeying the law or committing a sin.

cannot be absolved of blame

exonerate implies a complete clearance from an accusation or charge and from any attendant suspicion of blame or guilt.

exonerated by the investigation

acquit implies a formal decision in one's favor with respect to a definite charge.

voted to acquit the defendant

vindicate may refer to things as well as persons that have been subjected to critical attack or imputation of guilt, weakness, or folly, and implies a clearing effected by proving the unfairness of such criticism or blame.

her judgment was vindicated

Examples of exonerate in a Sentence

the results of the DNA fingerprinting finally exonerated the man, but only after he had wasted 10 years of his life in prison
Recent Examples on the Web Three jury trials later, their murder convictions were reversed in 2011 and in 2015, the pair were officially exonerated by the Cassation Court, Italy’s highest court. Dave Quinn, Peoplemag, 5 June 2024 The quintet was exonerated and released from prison in 2002. Christi Carras, Los Angeles Times, 4 June 2024 The teenagers, who became known as the Central Park Five, were later exonerated and the real perpetrator was identified. Shaila Dewan, New York Times, 3 June 2024 Benson was exonerated in 2023, 24 years into his 60-year sentence, following a joint investigation by the University of San Francisco’s Racial Justice Clinic and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, according to court records. Lauren Liebhaber, Kansas City Star, 23 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for exonerate 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'exonerate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Latin exoneratus, past participle of exonerare to unburden, from ex- + oner-, onus load

First Known Use

1524, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of exonerate was in 1524


Dictionary Entries Near exonerate

Cite this Entry

“Exonerate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exonerate. Accessed 12 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


ex·​on·​er·​ate ig-ˈzän-ə-ˌrāt How to pronounce exonerate (audio)
exonerated; exonerating
: to clear from a charge of wrongdoing or from blame : declare innocent
exoneration noun

Legal Definition


transitive verb
ex·​on·​er·​ate ig-ˈzä-nə-ˌrāt, eg- How to pronounce exonerate (audio)
exonerated; exonerating
: to relieve especially of a charge, obligation, or hardship
: to clear from accusation or blame compare acquit, exculpate

Latin exonerare to relieve, free, discharge, from ex- out + onerare to burden, from oner-, onus load

More from Merriam-Webster on exonerate

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