ex·​ten·​u·​ate ik-ˈsten-yə-ˌwāt How to pronounce extenuate (audio)
extenuated; extenuating

transitive verb

: to lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of (something, such as a fault or offense) by making partial excuses : mitigate
There is no economic analysis that can extenuate bigotry.Leon Wieseltier
… all the lies that society tells to justify its values and extenuate its conduct …Robert Penn Warren
see also extenuating
: to lessen the strength or effect of (something) : weaken
… it was true that he was an old friend and that … she felt a desire not to extenuate such ties.Henry James
archaic : to make light of
obsolete : disparage
archaic : to make thin or emaciated
extenuator noun
extenuatory adjective

Did you know?

You have probably encountered the phrase "extenuating circumstances," which is one of the more common ways that this word turns up in modern times. Extenuate was borrowed into English in the late Middle Ages from Latin extenuatus, the past participle of the verb extenuare, which was itself formed by combining ex- and the verb tenuare, meaning "to make thin." In addition to the surviving senses, extenuate once meant "to make light of" and "to make thin or emaciated"; although those senses are now obsolete, the connection to tenuare can be traced somewhat more clearly through them. Extenuate is today mostly at home in technical and legal contexts, but it occasionally appears in general writing with what may be a developing meaning: "to prolong, worsen, or exaggerate." This meaning, which is likely due to a conflation with extend or accentuate (or both), is not yet fully established.

Examples of extenuate in a Sentence

don't even try to extenuate their vandalism of the cemetery with the old refrain of “Boys will be boys”

Word History


Latin extenuatus, past participle of extenuare, from ex- + tenuis thin — more at thin

First Known Use

1529, in the meaning defined at sense 3a

Time Traveler
The first known use of extenuate was in 1529

Dictionary Entries Near extenuate

Cite this Entry

“Extenuate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extenuate. Accessed 15 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


ex·​ten·​u·​ate ik-ˈsten-yə-ˌwāt How to pronounce extenuate (audio)
extenuated; extenuating
: to try to make less serious by partial excuses

More from Merriam-Webster on extenuate

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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