“Extenuating circumstances” meaning and when to use it

Have you ever heard of the expression “extenuating circumstances?” According to most dictionaries, it means any circumstances or situations that would justify someone’s actions by stating certain reasons; or to lessen or reduce the seriousness by giving valid reasons that would be given due consideration. This is synonymous with “mitigating,” or “exceptional” circumstances.


The word “extenuating” comes from the Latin words “ex” and “tenuis” which (when combined) means to make something forgivable.

More often than not, this expression is used in situations that would forgive or pardon the doer of the action from anything they did that would usually warrant punishment. This is because they have given valid reasons for their actions to avoid being punished. This usually happens in situations beyond your control and you are then forced to measures you normally would not do.

Examples or Application of Extenuating Circumstances

Here are some situations where extenuating circumstances apply

Serious ill health – You fail to come to school or report for work. Normally, you would be sanctioned for failing to do so. In order to avoid these sanctions, you need to present reasons why you should be pardoned. If the reason for your absence is due to health reasons, a medical certificate or note from a doctor is presented as soon as you can return to school or work. This is understandable if you came down with a serious illness that prevents you from performing your usual routine; most especially if you will be confined to a hospital for quite some time.

This also applies to a significant exacerbation or an ongoing condition you are having like a recurring injury or illness that may require you to see a doctor regularly. Another related case would be pregnancy complications which obviously apply only to women.

What is not accepted is if you only have a minor illness like a cold. What will only be considered is a health condition that would prevent you from being able to fully perform your tasks. Another situation that is not considered extenuating is routine medical checkups

Personal accident or injury – This is similar to being afflicted with ill health, only you were a victim of a man-made accident such as a vehicular accident or being a victim of a crime where you may have been assaulted, resulting in serious injury. As such you are likely to undergo treatment or stay in the hospital. In addition to a medical certificate, you may also want to present a police report as well as proof you were in an accident or a victim of a crime. In relation to being a victim of a crime, even being robbed may also keep you from going to school or work since you will need to attend to getting things back in order in your home and regularly coordinating with the police who will very likely get statements from you.

Bereavement or death in the family – when a member of a family dies, it is normal to mourn the loss and this should be understandable if you cannot go to school or work for this reason. It would be insensitive for the school or company to punish you for being absent because you are in mourning. In addition, it is likely you are also handling funeral arrangements too. You might want to present a death certificate when you are able to go back to school or work again as proof.

What is not accepted are claims relating to extended family members such as uncles, aunts and cousins, most especially distant relatives.

Unforseen transport difficulties that are unavoidable – probably the best example would be a transport strike which prevent people from going about their business. They may be announced or unannounced. In relation to that, adverse weather conditions such as a storm. In this regard, it is important to always stay in touch with the news to see if your area will be affected. Normally, traffic is unacceptable since you are expected to make adjustments such as leaving earlier.

Another extenuating circumstance (if applicable) is jury duty or called for military service if you are a reservist. In the latter, there are laws that ensure you will keep your job while you are rendering military service.

What Are Not Extenuating Circumstances

These are situations that would not count as “extenuating” would be moving house because your school or employer will reason out that you can schedule it on your day off. Family events such as weddings. If you are the one getting married, it is expected you will schedule it on your free time. If not, simply attending will not justify your absence. The same is true with family reunions. These circumstances are well under your control. You can dictate the time and as such, cannot justify your absence.

In conclusion, if there is a common denominator for extenuating circumstances, these are situations beyond our control which prevents us from performing our daily routines. As such, you should be forgiven for missing out on school or work because of these situations.