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”
Recent Examples on the Web In another breakthrough, Mr. Wildes found that immigration officials had the discretion to deport or not, depending on whether there were extenuating circumstances. Adam Nossiter, New York Times, 13 Jan. 2024 There were extenuating circumstances, but those movies overcame concerns about where and how they were seen. Brian Lowry, CNN, 20 Oct. 2023 The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on whether extenuating circumstances should outweigh a reasonable request. Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Times, 18 Oct. 2023 On Friday, just hours after the collision occurred, the Cruise general manager for the San Francisco market attempted to explain away the incident, blaming extenuating circumstances. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 22 Aug. 2023 Garson’s death was just one of several extenuating circumstances complicating the show’s first season. Dan Heching, CNN, 19 Aug. 2023 Airbnb instructed Flores to contact his host to request a full refund because, he was told, the company’s extenuating circumstances policy would not apply for a November trip. Rob Wile, NBC News, 16 Aug. 2023 Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy is in effect for Maui, which means hosts and guests in the area can cancel penalty-free and guests will receive a full refund. Andrea Sachs, Sofia Andrade, Hannah Sampson, Natalie B. Compton, The Washington Post, Anchorage Daily News, 11 Aug. 2023 But the university did not admit wrongdoing and maintained that extenuating circumstances of the pandemic, and the lack of an official contract between the school and each student, meant it was justified in taking the tuition and fees — an argument made by many other schools. Elaine S. Povich, USA TODAY, 8 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'extenuate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 24 Feb. 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

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