com·​pel | \ kəm-ˈpel How to pronounce compel (audio) \
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 How to pronounce compellable (audio) \ 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 And Christians do not have to power to compel us to believe. David Harsanyi, National Review, "Convert Me If You Can," 17 Nov. 2020 Imperati filed a motion to compel him to turn over the filings. Kelan Lyons,, "Citing ‘willful’ delays, federal judge orders Connecticut to release information on prison medical care," 5 Nov. 2020 The prince has levied increasing penalties on companies employing migrant labor to compel them to hire more Saudis instead, but unemployment for citizens has remained around 12%. Los Angeles Times, "The Nepalese man who came back from the dead," 28 Oct. 2020 No Democrats participated in the vote to compel their testimony. Brian Fung, CNN, "Conservatives push to discredit Facebook, Twitter and Google just days before the election," 25 Oct. 2020 Rochester mayor:'Daniel Prude was failed by our police … our society, and by me' A grand jury is not a means to compel that testimony, as officers would need to be granted immunity to do so. Brian Sharp, USA TODAY, "New York to empanel grand jury to investigate the death of Daniel Prude," 5 Sep. 2020 Teachers unions have cited state constitutional guarantees of free and equal public education in lawsuits to compel legislatures to give schools more money. Allysia Finley, WSJ, "Voters and the Other Supreme Courts," 1 Nov. 2020 The most aberrant detail of the investigation was Mueller’s decision not to compel the president to be deposed in person: a fateful choice, hard to explain on any grounds except reluctance to precipitate a constitutional crisis. David Bromwich, Harper's Magazine, "Is America Ungovernable?," 27 Oct. 2020 Outrage from Republicans led to a Senate Judiciary Committee vote Thursday to compel Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify about allegations of anti-conservative bias. Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY, "Debate sets stage for anti-conservative bias charges against Facebook and Twitter over Hunter Biden article," 22 Oct. 2020

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 compeller "to coerce, force, constrain," borrowed from Anglo-French compeller, borrowed from Latin compellere "to drive together, force to go, force (to a view, course of action)," from com- com- + pellere "to beat against, push, strike, rouse, impel" — more at pulse entry 1

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Time Traveler for compel

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for compel

Last Updated

20 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Compel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for compel


How to pronounce compel (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of compel

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


com·​pel | \ kəm-ˈpel How to pronounce compel (audio) \
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 How to pronounce compel (audio) \
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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