What are some ancient words that mean forgiveness? I’m looking for words that were used before the common era (before 0 CE). I’m looking for words from Latin, Greek, German, and other languages. These words can be nouns, verbs, or adjectives.

4 Answers 4


Was this question overlooked because of Thanksgiving?


  • venia: typically used of the gods for indulgence or permission, but developed a meaning of "pardon" or "forgiveness" already with Cicero (if not earlier)
  • remissio: this became the Ecclesiastical word for forgiveness of sin
  • clementia: this adds a connotation of "merciful" to the forgiveness
  • ignoscentia: post-classical "very rare" but makes etymological sense


  • ignoscere: takes a dative; the most basic way to express forgiving someone/asking for forgiveness
  • condonare: it means "to give up", but you can "give up" a grudge or debt, thus the forgiving aspect
  • concedere: less common, but the basic idea is withdraw -> to allow -> to forgive someone (dat.) of crimes (acc.)


  • exorabilis: "easily moved", i.e. forgiving if entreated
  • clemens: adjective, from which the noun clementia is derived

The standard Classical Greek words are συγγιγνώσκω "forgive" and συγγνώμη or σύγγνοια "forgiveness".

  • Also: ἐλεέω (cf. "kyrie eleison"--but the word is in classical sources too)
    – brianpck
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 13:36
  • 1
    @brianpck Yes, though that's more "show pity/mercy to" than "forgive" (i.e. no implication that someone has wronged you). Semantically quite close of course.
    – TKR
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 20:50
  • @TKR Interesting, there semantic similarities is present in English, too. One theoretical to translate νηλής besides "pitiless" is "ruthless" or "unforgiving."
    – cmw
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 21:40

In the gospels, the verb seems to be ἀφίημι, meaning literally to let go. See, for example, Mark 1:4.


We cannot give you any German examples, as there are no German (or Germanic) texts from before the common era, but we do have Sanskrit mṛḑīka-, Avestan marždika- et al.

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