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 There was a consensus that homeless people need compassion. Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Downtown's homeless camp could return — but local and state officials will work together to try to prevent that," 8 Jan. 2020 But at what cost? Sarah Scoles gets into the mind bending details of how long-term space flights can shape people’s behaviors and psyches, adding a touch of compassion and empathy to the whole Mars colony narrative. Popsci Staff, Popular Science, "Our favorite science and tech stories of 2019," 31 Dec. 2019 Approach the conversation with compassion, not resentment. Ronda Kaysen, New York Times, "How to Have a Party Without Enraging Your Neighbors," 21 Dec. 2019 Chapman said that the mascot issue has deeply divided Killingly and he was concerned about residents’ inability to engage in difficult conversations with compassion. Eliza Fawcett, courant.com, "In heated debate over mascot, Killingly board of education rescinds “Red Hawks,” but fails in bid to restore “Redmen” name," 12 Dec. 2019 In a similar fashion, Fredriksson captured the impossibly sad reality of going it alone with great compassion and unflinching bravery. Annie Zaleski, Billboard, "Forever No. 1: Roxette's 'It Must Have Been Love'," 12 Dec. 2019 The nurses were overworked and underpaid, so compassion was not their priority. Janine Di Giovanni, Harper's magazine, "Notes on a Crisis," 28 Oct. 2019 Special thanks to Tammy and the Staff of Salmon Brook Center of Glastonbury for their care and compassion. courant.com, "Enza Caramma," 12 Dec. 2019 The number of people may be small, but their compassion seems to be great. Kelly Barrett, National Geographic, "10 acts of kindness by strangers around the world," 9 Dec. 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

11 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Compassion.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion?pronunciation&lang=en_us&dir=c&file=compas03. Accessed 19 January 2020.

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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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