compassion

noun
com·​pas·​sion | \kəm-ˈpa-shən \

Definition of compassion 

: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

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Other Words from compassion

compassionless \ kəm-​ˈpa-​shən-​ləs \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for compassion

pity, compassion, commiseration, condolence, sympathy mean the act or capacity for sharing the painful feelings of another. pity implies tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery or distress. felt pity for the captives compassion implies pity coupled with an urgent desire to aid or to spare. treats the homeless with great compassion commiseration suggests pity expressed outwardly in exclamations, tears, or words of comfort. murmurs of commiseration filled the loser's headquarters condolence applies chiefly to formal expression of grief to one who has suffered loss. expressed their condolences to the widow sympathy often suggests a tender concern but can also imply a power to enter into another's emotional experience of any sort. went to my best friend for sympathy in sympathy with her desire to locate her natural parents

What is the difference between empathy and compassion?

Some of our users are interested in the difference between empathy and compassion. Compassion is the broader word: it refers to both an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain:

Our rationalizations for lying (or withholding the truth)—"to protect her," "he could never handle it”—come more out of cowardice than compassion.
— Eric Utne, Utne Reader, November/December 1992

Sometimes compassion is used to refer broadly to sympathetic understanding:

Nevertheless, when Robert Paxton's "Vichy France" appeared in a French translation in 1973, his stark and devastating description ... was rather badly received in France, where many critics accused this scrupulous and thoughtful young historian either of misinterpreting the Vichy leaders' motives or of lacking compassion.
— Stanley Hoffmann, The New York Times Book Review, 1 Nov. 1981

Empathy refers to the ability to relate to another person’s pain vicariously, as if one has experienced that pain themselves:

For instance, people who are highly egoistic and presumably lacking in empathy keep their own welfare paramount in making moral decisions like how or whether to help the poor.
— Daniel Goleman, The New York Times, 28 Mar. 1989

"The man thought all this talk was fine, but he was more concerned with just getting water. And, if I was going to be successful on this mission, I had to remember what his priorities were. The quality you need most in United Nations peacekeeping is empathy."
— Geordie Elms, quoted in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Autumn 1992

In some cases, compassion refers to both a feeling and the action that stems from that feeling:

Compassion, tenderness, patience, responsibility, kindness, and honesty are actions that elicit similar responses from others.
— Jane Smiley, Harper’s, June 2000

while empathy tends to be used just for a feeling:

She is also autistic, a disability that she argues allows her a special empathy with nonhuman creatures.
— Tim Flannery, The New York Review of Books, 29 April 2009

Examples of compassion in a Sentence

Take away all the qualities that make for a genuinely good father—wisdom, compassion, even temper, selflessness—and what you have left is Homer Simpson with his pure, mindless, dogged devotion to his family. — Paul A. Cantor, Gilligan Unbound, 2001 … he read every "doctor book" he could reach …  , learning fine secrets and curing us with steams and fruit compotes and dexterous rubs and, above all, with bedside compassion. — Gwendolyn Brooks, Booklist, 15 Oct. 1993 The novel addresses at every point in its structural edifice, and lingers over in every fissure, the slave's body and personality: the way it speaks, what passion legal or illicit it is prey to, what pain it can endure, what limits, if any, there are to its suffering, what possibilities there are for forgiveness, compassion, love. — Toni Morrison, Playing In The Dark, 1992 I can't write songs about what's wrong with a country that seems to lack compassion for pain and suffering … — Bonnie Raitt, quoted in Entertainment Weekly, 23 Aug. 1991 Like the best of the new detectives, V. I. and Kinsey, she is a woman of wit and gravity, compassion and toughness, a heroine worth spending time with. — Susan Isaacs, New York Times Book Review, 3 Nov. 1991 He felt compassion for the lost child. She shows compassion to the sick. She had the compassion to offer help when it was needed most.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Love is universal / Love is going to express itself as a form of forgiveness and compassion for each other. Emma Stefansky, Vanities, "The Best Burns from Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Surprise Album “Everything Is Love”," 17 June 2018 Probing yet unsentimental in its clear-eyed compassion, this is a fragmented portrait of an ordinary life, distinguished by writing that plumbs emotional depths without ever surrendering its exquisite restraint. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Mary Page Marlowe': Theater Review," 13 July 2018 How else could a human make it to 72 never having shown compassion? New York Times, "Samantha Hunt: By the Book," 21 June 2018 So grateful to @realDonaldTrump, Jared Kushner & to everyone who has showed compassion & contributed countless hours to this important moment for Ms. Alice Marie Johnson. Heran Mamo, Billboard, "Kim Kardashian Celebrates After Donald Trump Grants Alice Johnson Clemency: 'Best News Ever'," 6 June 2018 So grateful to @realDonaldTrump, Jared Kushner & to everyone who has showed compassion & contributed countless hours to this important moment for Ms. Alice Marie Johnson. Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "Kim Kardashian Thanks Trump for Granting Clemency to Alice Marie Johnson," 6 June 2018 What Georgina should be receiving is our compassion and understanding. Anna Wintour, Vogue, "Anna Wintour’s June Editor’s Letter: Georgina Chapman Breaks Her Silence," 10 May 2018 McClurkin also offered a presentation to Prescott students on the team’s ABC’s of Bullying Prevention program, emphasizing the ideals of taking action, being brave and showing compassion. Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Globetrotter pays heartwarming visit to 10-year-old Wisconsin boy with rare disease," 21 Mar. 2018 The slightest expression of compassion, of putting the feelings of another before his own, is, in a man of literary genius, an act of valor. Dana Snitzky, Longreads, "Hemingway’s Last Girl," 12 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'compassion.' 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 compassion

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for compassion

Middle English, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin compassion-, compassio, from compati to sympathize, from Latin com- + pati to bear, suffer — more at patient

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Last Updated

1 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for compassion

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

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More Definitions for compassion

compassion

noun

English Language Learners Definition of compassion

: a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

compassion

noun
com·​pas·​sion | \kəm-ˈpa-shən \

Kids Definition of compassion

: pity for and a desire to help someone

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