Choose the right word
absolve, acquit, exempt, exonerate, forgive, pardon, vindicate
To varying degrees, all of these words mean to free from guilt or blame, and some are most frequently heard in a legal or political context. Absolve is the most general term, meaning to set free or release—not only from guilt or blame, but from a duty or obligation ( absolved from her promise to serve on the committee) or from the penalties for their violation. Pardon is usually associated with the actions of a government or military official ( President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon following his resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal) and specifically refers to a release from prosecution or punishment. It is usually a legal official who decides to acquit someone—that is, release someone from a specific and formal accusation of wrongdoing ( the court acquitted the accused due to lack of evidence). Exonerate suggests relief (its origin suggests the lifting of a burden), often in a moral sense, from a definite charge so that not even the suspicion of wrongdoing remains ( completely exonerated from the accusation of cheating). A person who is vindicated is also off the hook, usually due to the examination of evidence ( she vindicated herself by producing the missing documents). Exempt has less to do with guilt and punishment and more to do with duty and obligation ( exempt from paying taxes). To forgive, however, is the most magnanimous act of all: it implies not only giving up on the idea that an offense should be punished, but also relinquishing any feelings of resentment or vengefulness ( “to err is human, to forgive divine”).