verb com·pel \ kəm-ˈpel \
|Updated on: 4 Jul 2018
compelled; compelling
1 : to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly
  • Hunger compelled him to eat.
  • The general was compelled to surrender.
2 : to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure
  • Public opinion compelled her to sign the bill.
3 archaic : to drive together


play \kəm-ˈpe-lə-bəl\ adjective

Examples of compel in a Sentence

  1. Illness compelled him to stay in bed.

  2. We took steps to compel their cooperation.

Recent Examples of compel from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'compel.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Did You Know?

The prefix com- acts as a strengthener in this word; thus, to compel is to drive powerfully, or force. So you may feel compelled to speak to a friend about his drinking, or compelled to reveal a secret in order to prevent something from happening. A compulsion is usually a powerful inner urge; a compulsive shopper or a compulsive gambler usually can't hold onto money for long. You might not want to do something unless there's a compelling reason; however, a compelling film is simply one that seems serious and important.

Origin and Etymology of compel

Middle English compellen, from Anglo-French compeller, from Latin compellere, from com- + pellere to drive — more at felt

Synonym Discussion of compel

force, compel, coerce, constrain, oblige mean to make someone or something yield. force is the general term and implies the overcoming of resistance by the exertion of strength, power, or duress.
    • forced to flee for their lives
compel typically suggests overcoming of resistance or unwillingness by an irresistible force.
    • compelled to admit my mistake
coerce suggests overcoming resistance or unwillingness by actual or threatened violence or pressure.
    • coerced into signing over the rights
constrain suggests the effect of a force or circumstance that limits freedom of action or choice.
    • constrained by conscience
oblige implies the constraint of necessity, law, or duty.
    • felt obliged to go

COMPEL Defined for English Language Learners


  • : to force (someone) to do something

  • : to make (something) happen : to force (something)

COMPEL Defined for Kids


verb com·pel \ kəm-ˈpel \
compelled; compelling
1 : to make (as a person) do something by the use of physical, moral, or mental pressure : force
  • … so greatly did hunger compel him, he was not above taking what did not belong to him.
  • —Jack London, The Call of the Wild
2 : to make happen by force
  • He compelled obedience.

Word Root of compel

The Latin word pellere, meaning “to cause to move” or “to drive,” gives us the root pel. Words from the Latin pellere have something to do with driving or causing something to move. To propel is to drive forward. To compel is to drive someone to do something. To expel is to drive out. To repel is to drive back or away.

Law Dictionary


transitive verb com·pel \ kəm-ˈpel \
compelled; compelling
: to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure and especially by authority or law
  • cannot compel the defendant to testify
  • the result…is compelled by, the original understanding of the fourteenth amendment's equal protection clause
  • —R. H. Bork

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a downward inclination or slope

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