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

Example Sentences

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 Marilyn Mulero was the 190th person to be exonerated from death row. Steven P. Dinkin, San Diego Union-Tribune, 7 May 2023 Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez said the jury's guilty verdict will help exonerate the couple who were falsely accused of trying to kidnap two small children at a Michael's craft store. Claire Thornton, USA TODAY, 29 Apr. 2023 The Central Park Five, as they were known, were exonerated in 2002 after a Manhattan judge vacated their conviction in light of DNA evidence linking the crime to another individual. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, 18 Apr. 2023 The court battles lasted more than a decade, but all official inquiries exonerated the crew. David Reamer | Alaska History, Anchorage Daily News, 16 Apr. 2023 Man ordered to serve 400 years for 1989 armed robbery in Broward goes free 02:28 A man who served more than three decades of a 400-year prison sentence for armed robbery charges was freed Monday after being exonerated. Aliza Chasan, CBS News, 14 Mar. 2023 Carlson implies that his footage should exonerate Chansley. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 8 Mar. 2023 He was exonerated in 2012 after evidence in Dallas police possession identifying another suspect was discovered. Kelli Smith, Dallas News, 8 Mar. 2023 Michael Williams, one of Masters’ pro bono attorneys, said federal law requires states to consider evidence that would help exonerate a prisoner sentenced to death, even if such evidence might otherwise be ignored through technicalities of the law. Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times, 13 Sep. 2022 See More

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 28 May. 2023.

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

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