com·pass | \ ˈkəm-pəs also ˈkäm- \
compassed; compassing; compasses

Definition of compass 

(Entry 1 of 3)

transitive verb

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

3a : 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



Definition of compass (Entry 2 of 3)

1a : 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)

3a : 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 sense 6c his moral compass



Definition of compass (Entry 3 of 3)

: forming a curve : curved a compass timber

Illustration of compass

Illustration of compass


compass 3a

In the meaning defined above

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Other words from compass


compassable \ˈkəm-pə-sə-bəl alsoˈkäm- \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Examples of compass in a Sentence


attempting more than his modest abilities could compass the great age of exploration, when ships of sail compassed the earth


He always carries a compass when he walks in the woods. His religion is the compass that guides him. Interest rates serve as a compass for determining whether to buy or sell stocks. The character in the movie had no moral compass to tell him that stealing was wrong.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

True to their name, though, sun compasses only work in the sun. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Vikings Could Have Used Crystals For Navigation," 4 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Over lunch in midtown Manhattan, a tattoo of an Icelandic compass symbol reveals itself on his right forearm. Jordan Runtagh,, "Graham Nash Tells the Wild Tales Behind His Most Enduring Songs," 29 June 2018 Four megacities a year through 2026, by which time the points on the Whittle compass will include Paris, Delhi, Tokyo, and Doha. Sam Tanenhaus, Town & Country, "Can Chris Whittle Launch a Truly Global School?," 10 July 2018 Most normal people with moral compasses would behave that way. Julia Belluz, Vox, "How Silicon Valley got played by Theranos," 15 June 2018 If their moral compass isn’t strong enough to do what’s right, then having a rule is not going to change it. Lynn Horsley, kansascity, "Critics call JoCo fire district board 'an embarrassment.' Commission to take control," 8 June 2018 That Bourdain of all people would became a moral compass for men grappling with a new world order was unexpected. Kathryn Lindsay,, "Anthony Bourdain's Transformation Into #MeToo Advocate Is His Greatest Legacy," 8 June 2018 As America has grown more diverse, more secular and more polarized, its moral compass is harder to tune to a true north, with no particular voice emerging as an authority. Editors, USA TODAY, "Texas school shooting, Trump calls for FBI investigation: 5 things you need to know Monday," 21 May 2018 The round, 530-square-foot mosaic depicts four compass points over a blue-sky background, the Idaho Statesman reports. Sven Berg, The Seattle Times, "Heat, water and trucks are destroying a Boise mosaic," 9 July 2018 Tobias Wright brings a clear, agile tenor and excellent diction to the wide vocal compass of Clarke, whose detective work helps unravel the mystery surrounding Helen. John Von Rhein,, "Chicago Fringe Opera's bare-bones staging of 'Great God Pan' brings more spills than chills," 15 Mar. 2018

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.

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First Known Use of compass


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1523, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for compass


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


see compass entry 1

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Time Traveler for compass

The first known use of compass was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for compass



English Language Learners Definition of compass

: 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


com·pass | \ ˈkəm-pəs \

Kids Definition of compass

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 : range entry 1 sense 2, scope He is within the compass of my voice.

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Comments on compass

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


occurring twice a year or every two years

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