verb com·pass \ ˈkəm-pəs also ˈkäm- \
Updated on: 21 Mar 2018

Definition of compass

1 : to devise or contrive often with craft or skill : plot
  • " … persons … who have compassed my destruction … "
  • —Charles Dickens
2 : encompass
  • a lake compassed by mountains
3 a : bring about, achieve
  • … none can compass more than they intend …
  • —Alexander Pope
b : to get into one's possession or power : obtain
  • He compassed a vast estate.
4 : comprehend
  • could not compass the seriousness of the problem


play \ˈkəm-pə-sə-bəl also ˈkäm-\ adjective

Examples of compass in a Sentence

  1. attempting more than his modest abilities could compass

  2. the great age of exploration, when ships of sail compassed the earth

Origin and Etymology of compass

Middle English, from Anglo-French cumpasser to measure, from Vulgar Latin *compassare to pace off, from Latin com- + passus pace




Definition of compass

1 a : boundary, circumference
  • within the compass of the city walls
b : a circumscribed space
  • crammed into a narrow compass
c : range, scope
  • the compass of my voice
2 : a curved or roundabout course
  • … a compass of seven days' journey …
  • —2 Kings 3:9 (King James Version)
3 a : a device for determining directions by means of a magnetic needle or group of needles turning freely on a pivot and pointing to the magnetic north
b : any of various nonmagnetic devices that indicate direction
c : an instrument for describing circles or transferring measurements that consists of two pointed branches joined at the top by a pivot usually used in plural called also pair of compasses
4 : direction 6c
  • his moral compass

Examples of compass in a Sentence

  1. He always carries a compass when he walks in the woods.

  2. His religion is the compass that guides him.

  3. Interest rates serve as a compass for determining whether to buy or sell stocks.

  4. The character in the movie had no moral compass to tell him that stealing was wrong.

Recent Examples of compass from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'compass.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Illustration of compass

illustration of compass

Origin and Etymology of compass

Synonym Discussion of compass

range, gamut, compass, sweep, scope, orbit mean the extent that lies within the powers of something (as to cover or control). range is a general term indicating the extent of one's perception or the extent of powers, capacities, or possibilities.
    • the entire range of human experience
gamut suggests a graduated series running from one possible extreme to another.
    • a performance that ran the gamut of emotions
compass implies a sometimes limited extent of perception, knowledge, or activity.
    • your concerns lie beyond the narrow compass of this study
sweep suggests extent, often circular or arc-shaped, of motion or activity.
    • the book covers the entire sweep of criminal activity
scope is applicable to an area of activity, predetermined and limited, but somewhat flexible.
    • as time went on, the scope of the investigation widened
orbit suggests an often circumscribed range of activity or influence within which forces work toward accommodation.
    • within that restricted orbit they tried to effect social change




Definition of compass

: forming a curve : curved
  • a compass timber

First Known Use of compass


COMPASS Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of compass for English Language Learners

  • : a device that is used to find direction by means of a needle that always points north

  • : something that helps a person make choices about what is right, effective, etc.

  • : a tool that consists of two pointed sticks joined at the top and that is used for measuring distances

COMPASS Defined for Kids


noun com·pass \ ˈkəm-pəs \

Definition of compass for Students

1 : a device having a magnetic needle that indicates direction on the earth's surface by pointing toward the north
2 : an instrument for drawing circles or marking measurements consisting of two pointed legs joined at the top by a pivot usually used in pl.
3 : 1range 2, scope
  • He is within the compass of my voice.

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an ideal or imaginary place

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