Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


verb, com·pel \kəm-ˈpel\

Simple Definition of compel

  • : to force (someone) to do something

  • : to make (something) happen : to force (something)

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of compel


  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly <hunger compelled him to eat>

  3. 2 :  to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure <public opinion compelled her to sign the bill>

  4. 3 archaic :  to drive together

compellable play \-ˈpe-lə-bəl\ adjective

Examples of compel in a sentence

  1. Illness compelled him to stay in bed.

  2. We took steps to compel their cooperation.

Origin of compel

Middle English compellen, from Anglo-French compeller, from Latin compellere, from com- + pellere to drive — more at felt

First Known Use: 14th century

Synonym Discussion of compel

force, compel, coerce, constrain, oblige mean to make someone or something yield. force is the general term and implies the overcoming of resistance by the exertion of strength, power, or duress <forced to flee for their lives>. compel typically suggests overcoming of resistance or unwillingness by an irresistible force <compelled to admit my mistake>. coerce suggests overcoming resistance or unwillingness by actual or threatened violence or pressure <coerced into signing over the rights>. constrain suggests the effect of a force or circumstance that limits freedom of action or choice <constrained by conscience>. oblige implies the constraint of necessity, law, or duty <felt obliged to go>.

COMPEL Defined for Kids


verb com·pel \kəm-ˈpel\

Definition of compel for Students


  1. 1 :  to make (as a person) do something by the use of physical, moral, or mental pressure :  force <… so greatly did hunger compel him, he was not above taking what did not belong to him. — Jack London, The Call of the Wild>

  2. 2 :  to make happen by force <He compelled obedience.>

Word Root of compel

The Latin word pellere, meaning “to cause to move” or “to drive,” gives us the root pel. Words from the Latin pellere have something to do with driving or causing something to move. To propel is to drive forward. To compel is to drive someone to do something. To expel is to drive out. To repel is to drive back or away.

Law Dictionary


transitive verb com·pel \kəm-ˈpel\

Legal Definition of compel


  1. :  to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure and especially by authority or law <cannot compel the defendant to testify> <the result…is compelled by, the original understanding of the fourteenth amendment's equal protection clause — R. H. Bork>

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up compel? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


tending to dismiss important matters

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

perplex reduce soothe disapprove
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.