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

Padres fans embraced it all so much that Reyes was compelled to work up a thank you message on Instagram after he was traded to Cleveland ahead of the July 31 deadline. Jeff Sanders, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Padres fan favorite Franmil Reyes making himself a new home in Cleveland," 13 Sep. 2019 Jackson’s private feeling aren’t public record until he is compelled to write letters to judges asking for mercy. Phillip Morris,, "Mayor Frank Jackson has a crime problem — at home: Phillip Morris," 8 Sep. 2019 Dee Ford and Nick Bosa are healing well from training camp injuries so will the 49ers be compelled to keep an extra edge rusher such as Damontre Moore or Jeremiah Valoaga? Cam Inman, The Mercury News, "Navigating 49ers road to 53-man roster: McKinnon to IR," 31 Aug. 2019 Pomeroy, a Republican who will face off against Democratic incumbent Judith Zaffirini in a deep-blue state Senate district, told Fox News he was compelled to run after the response to recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio. Fox News, "Pastor who lost child in church massacre running to bring humanity, not gun control, back into politics," 29 Aug. 2019 That is where our problem began because customers who were not even my regular clients came with a Gold subscription and I was compelled to give something free on something. Kuwar Singh, Quartz India, "How Indian restaurateurs united on WhatsApp in five hours to fight food-delivery apps," 27 Aug. 2019 The fact that the hypotheses were out there compelled the authors to be up front about them not being supported and undoubtedly contributed to their ability to get these negative results published in a high-profile journal. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "When it comes to moral decisions, testosterone doesn’t seem to do much," 23 July 2019 Shulman hopes that people who see Trinkets and are also struggling with shoplifting might be compelled to find support. Cory Stieg,, "What Trinkets Gets Wrong & Right About Shoplifting Addiction," 15 June 2019 Tuesday's motions focused on when and how the preliminary injunction hearing would proceed, and whether certain doctors could be compelled to testify. Holly Yan, CNN, "A judge could soon decide whether Missouri will be the first state without abortion clinics," 4 June 2019

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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Statistics for compel

Last Updated

10 Oct 2019

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 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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More from Merriam-Webster on compel

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with compel

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for compel

Spanish Central: Translation of compel

Nglish: Translation of compel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of compel for Arabic Speakers

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