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

Phillips has repeatedly denied the misconduct claims and allegations of a secret deal and said he will be exonerated with a fair hearing. Darrell Smith, sacbee, "DA vs. Noah Phillips: Office files motion against prosecutor running for DA seat | The Sacramento Bee," 11 May 2018 Because Democrats expected him to exonerate her and Republicans expected him to indict her, Comey was probably toast from the get-go. Michael Duffy, Time, "James Comey’s Book A Higher Loyalty Is a Major Break from the Norm," 3 May 2018 But the agents and prosecutors later determined that Schmidt lied extensively at the five-hour debriefing, falsely exonerating himself and his superiors, and setting back their probe. Roger Parloff, Fortune, "How VW Paid $25 Billion for 'Dieselgate' — and Got Off Easy," 6 Feb. 2018 And his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has said Comey was fired for refusing to publicly exonerate Trump. BostonGlobe.com, "‘Shaken’ Rosenstein felt used by White House in Comey firing," 30 June 2018 And his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has said Mr. Comey was fired for refusing to publicly exonerate Mr. Trump. New York Times, "‘Shaken’ Rosenstein Felt Used by White House in Comey Firing," 29 June 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, The Seattle Times, "Supreme Court declines to hear ‘Making a Murderer’ case," 25 June 2018 In 2000, Republican Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois, citing a number of cases in which death row inmates were exonerated. Manya Brachear Pashman, chicagotribune.com, "Faithful death penalty opponents decry governor’s proposal," 20 May 2018 Ledura Watkins, in Michigan, waited longer than any other person who was exonerated last year. Niraj Chokshi, New York Times, "False Confessions, Mistaken Witnesses, Corrupt Investigators: Why 139 Innocent People Went to Jail," 14 Mar. 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

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Statistics for exonerate

Last Updated

6 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

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

History and Etymology for exonerate

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

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playful or foolish behavior

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