com·pel | \ kəm-ˈpel \
compelled; compelling

Definition of compel 

transitive verb

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

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Other words from compel

compellable \kəm-ˈpe-lə-bəl \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

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.

Examples of compel in a Sentence

Illness compelled him to stay in bed. We took steps to compel their cooperation.

Recent Examples on the Web

Another key figure is pilot Jane B. Hart, married to a US Senator from Michigan, whose experience in the project compelled her to become one of the founders of the National Organization for Women. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Netflix film examines why NASA shunned women astronauts in early days," 20 Apr. 2018 Cuba’s neighbours can encourage change but not compel it. The Economist, "The fade of the house of Castro," 18 Apr. 2018 Learn More Tilton opted to accept his resignation immediately, compelling him to pay back more than $64,000 in training costs. Christie Smythe,, "Lynn Tilton Is Suing a Private Jet Pilot Who Left Her Company," 21 Mar. 2018 Harari tracks the revolutions that compelled us forward and puts our comparatively brief time on the planet into perspective. Emily Heller, Vox, "Melinda Gates recommends 3 books that changed the way she thinks about the world," 19 Mar. 2018 The Globe also filed a lawsuit against Sargent days after her posting, seeking to use a clause in her separation agreement with the company to compel her to answer questions about the text exchange, including when it was sent. Michael Levenson,, "Former staffer questions investigation," 13 July 2018 And nobody did anything of substance to compel me to learn more about their product or service. Rob Weinberg, Pomerado News, "Must trade shows be boring?," 12 July 2018 The bigger question is this: Why doesn’t the government feel compelled to interfere in schools where the parents are paying the tuition directly? Bobby Jindal, WSJ, "The Moral Logic of School Choice," 25 June 2018 When direct, Mars is our jetpack, compelling us to surge forward in our endeavors, with little concern for the repercussions of our actions., "Mars Retrograde Could Hit The Brakes On Your Summer Plans," 25 June 2018

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.

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First Known Use of compel

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for compel

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

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Learn More about compel

Phrases Related to compel

feel compelled

Statistics for compel

Last Updated

12 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for compel

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

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More Definitions for compel



English Language Learners Definition of compel

: to force (someone) to do something

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


com·pel | \ kəm-ˈpel \
compelled; compelling

Kids Definition of compel

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.

com·pel | \ kəm-ˈpel \
compelled; compelling

Legal Definition of compel 

: 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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