ex·on·er·ate | \ ig-ˈzä-nə-ˌrāt , eg- \
exonerated; exonerating

Definition of exonerate 

transitive verb

1 : to relieve of a responsibility, obligation, or hardship

2 : to clear from accusation or blame

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Other words from exonerate

exoneration \ig-ˌzä-nə-ˈrā-shən, eg- \ noun
exonerative \ig-ˈzä-nə-ˌrā-tiv, eg- \ adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for exonerate


absolve, acquit, clear, exculpate, vindicate


criminate, incriminate

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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

Where Does exonerate Come From?

We won't blame you if you don't know the origins of today's word. Exonerate derives via Middle English from the past participle of the Latin verb exonerare, meaning "to unburden," formed by combining the prefix ex- with onus, meaning "load" or "burden" (onus itself lives on with that meaning in English). In its earliest uses, dating from the 16th century, exonerate was used in the context of physical burdens—a ship, for example, could be exonerated of its cargo when it was unloaded. Later it was used in reference to any kind of burden, until a more specific sense developed, meaning "to relieve (someone) of blame."

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

Last November, citing new DNA and investigative evidence, Gov. Jerry Brown exonerated Coley, clearing his record and freeing him after nearly 39 years behind bars. Pam Kragen, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Win or lose, baseball's just as sweet for exonerated man," 11 July 2018 Does all this exonerate China’s unfair trade practices? Alan S. Blinder, WSJ, "A Brief Introduction to Trade Economics," 8 July 2018 In September, Lamar Johnson was exonerated of murder after serving 13 years in prison. Tim Prudente, baltimoresun.com, "Baltimore man exonerated of murder after 30 years in prison," 2 July 2018 Contrary to what Landry's statement insinuates, the findings of his staff completely exonerate Mayor-elect Cantrell. Manuel Torres, NOLA.com, "Jeff Landry and LaToya Cantrell differ on status of credit card probe," 3 May 2018 All told, after eight years, Vance’s unit has exonerated only five defendants who were wrongly convicted — compared to two dozen in Brooklyn. Tom Robbins, Daily Intelligencer, "Think Manhattan DA Cy Vance Goes Easy on the Rich? Look at How He Prosecutes the Poor.," 29 Apr. 2018 At least 15 people convicted of injuring or killing an infant by violent shaking have since been exonerated, according to a national registry of wrongful convictions. Marisa Gerber, latimes.com, "Judge orders release of woman who served 11 years behind bars in grandson's death," 12 July 2018 Viewers of the first season were introduced to Dassey's uncle, Steven Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for a rape before DNA testing exonerated him. Jessica Gresko, Cincinnati.com, "Supreme Court declines to hear 'Making a Murderer' case," 25 June 2018 Two other people have been exonerated after convictions in Elkhart, including a co-defendant in Royer's murder case, Lana Canen. Mark Alesia, Indianapolis Star, "New evidence in 2002 murder sparks another wrongful conviction claim in Elkhart," 13 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'exonerate.' 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 exonerate

1524, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for exonerate

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

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

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Statistics for exonerate

Last Updated

11 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for exonerate

The first known use of exonerate was in 1524

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English Language Learners Definition of exonerate

: to prove that someone is not guilty of a crime or responsible for a problem, bad situation, etc.


transitive verb
ex·on·er·ate | \ ig-ˈzä-nə-ˌrāt, eg- \
exonerated; exonerating

Legal Definition of exonerate 

1 : to relieve especially of a charge, obligation, or hardship

2 : to clear from accusation or blame — compare acquit, exculpate

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