compassion

noun
com·​pas·​sion | \ kəm-ˈpa-shən How to pronounce compassion (audio) \

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 How to pronounce compassionless (audio) \ 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 Personal, religious, or moral biases against suicide or a strong fear of the topic can get in the way of coming at it from a place of compassion instead of judgment or alarm. Anna Borges, SELF, "9 Things All Parents Should Know About Teens and Suicide," 15 Nov. 2019 Working with the gorillas taught me how readily our emotions, our sense of compassion, and our humanity influence conservation decisions. National Geographic, "Can elephants sway an election?," 24 Oct. 2019 Even so, the show maintains a remarkable level of compassion for the victims in question, and viewers can find some comfort in that. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, "The Surprising Nuance of the Law & Order: SVU Jussie Smollett Episode," 11 Oct. 2019 Quieter acts of compassion support a more hopeful view. The Christian Science Monitor, "The borderless power of sports," 9 Oct. 2019 Vanska and the orchestra eloquently conveyed its rare blend of grief and comfort, pain and transcendence, again eschewing explosions in favor of something that sounded like surges of compassion. Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities, "Classical review: Minnesota Orchestra captivates with intimacy and beauty in season opener," 19 Sep. 2019 Evidence for cooperation and compassion among swimming, flying and walking creatures has captured public imagination. Barbara J. King, Scientific American, "Deception in the Animal Kingdom," 12 Sep. 2019 Dat hopes Buddhist principles of compassion, nonviolence and meditation will attract Westerners interested in the faith. Savannah Eadens, The Courier-Journal, "Vietnamese Buddhist temple opens in Iroquois Park 'for the whole Louisville community'," 6 Sep. 2019 Brittany, played with compassion and wit by Jillian Bell, is a 27-year-old working at a low-paying, dead-end job at a theater. Sarah Todd, Quartzy, "Can you be body-positive and want to lose weight?," 4 Sep. 2019

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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Learn More about compassion

Time Traveler for compassion

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for compassion

Last Updated

29 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Compassion.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion. Accessed 10 December 2019.

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More Definitions for compassion

compassion

noun
How to pronounce compassion (audio)

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 How to pronounce compassion (audio) \

Kids Definition of compassion

: pity for and a desire to help someone

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Comments on compassion

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