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

Definition of extenuate

transitive verb

1 : 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
2 : 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
3a archaic : to make light of
b obsolete : disparage
4 archaic : to make thin or emaciated

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Other Words from extenuate

extenuator \ ik-​ˈsten-​yə-​ˌwā-​tər How to pronounce extenuate (audio) , -​yü-​ˌā-​ \ noun
extenuatory \ ik-​ˈsten-​yə-​wə-​ˌtȯr-​ē How to pronounce extenuate (audio) , -​yü-​ə-​ \ 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 16th century 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. In addition, "extenuate" gave us the adjective extenuatory, meaning "tending to make less."

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”
Recent Examples on the Web No sooner had news of the crime broken than the nationalist, anti-Semitic press began to extenuate and even to praise it as a blow against degenerate Jewish thought. Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, "Philosophy in the Shadow of Nazism," 12 Oct. 2020 Obviously, extenuating circumstances prevented the MLB season from getting underway. Joey Hayden, Dallas News, "Ex-Rangers to watch for during ESPN’s KBO broadcasts from South Korea," 4 May 2020 The pandemic is an extenuating factor for some Republicans, important enough to make vote-by-mail a more viable option for some. Grace Segers, CBS News, "Calls for increased access to vote-by-mail gain traction amid coronavirus pandemic," 22 Apr. 2020 Eligible users can email help@simplehabit.com noting extenuating financial circumstances due to the pandemic to receive free access until April 20. Jazmin Goodwin, USA TODAY, "Health and wellness apps are offering free services to help those coping with coronavirus," 21 Mar. 2020 Now, there are exceptions to this idea: pregnancy, injury, extenuating life circumstances... Stacy London, refinery29.com, "Spring Cleaning in The Time Of COVID-19 (& Other Lessons Learned In Quarantine)," 19 Mar. 2020 But because Japan does not fall under Airbnb’s extenuating-circumstances policy, Dr. Shields struggled to secure refunds. Erin Griffith, New York Times, "How Your Airbnb Host Is Feeling the Pain of the Coronavirus," 10 Mar. 2020 Government agencies can activate Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) review processes during extenuating circumstances such as an emerging disease outbreak. Alice Park, Time, "Responding to Coronavirus Testing Problems, US Government Expands Number of Labs That Can Run Tests," 3 Mar. 2020 Green Bay 41, Raiders 7 — These circumstances clearly qualify as extenuating. Steve Kroner, SFChronicle.com, "Raiders’ top games in Oakland? Here’s our list," 14 Dec. 2019

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

1529, in the meaning defined at sense 3a

History and Etymology for extenuate

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

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The first known use of extenuate was in 1529

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Cite this Entry

“Extenuate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extenuate. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.

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