noun com·pas·sion \ kəm-ˈpa-shən \
|Updated on: 12 Jul 2018

Definition of compassion

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


play \kəm-ˈpa-shən-ləs\ adjective

Examples of compassion in a Sentence

  1. 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. CantorGilligan Unbound2001
  2. … 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 BrooksBooklist15 Oct. 1993
  3. 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 MorrisonPlaying In The Dark1992
  4. I can't write songs about what's wrong with a country that seems to lack compassion for pain and suffering … —Bonnie Raittquoted in Entertainment Weekly23 Aug. 1991
  5. 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 IsaacsNew York Times Book Review3 Nov. 1991
  6. He felt compassion for the lost child.

  7. She shows compassion to the sick.

  8. She had the compassion to offer help when it was needed most.

Recent Examples of compassion from the Web

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.

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

Origin and Etymology of 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

Synonym Discussion of 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

COMPASSION Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of compassion for English Language Learners

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

COMPASSION Defined for Kids


noun com·pas·sion \ kəm-ˈpa-shən \

Definition of compassion for Students

: pity for and a desire to help someone

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