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

Spring hopes that other restaurants will follow its lead and ultimately compel suppliers to ditch SUP entirely, too. Nick Levine,, "This Restaurant Just Cut Out All Single-Use Plastic," 14 July 2019 But what compels and delights me about my particular catalogue is that each book is, at heart, a text that teaches rather than dictates, that emphasizes cooking as a practice rather than as merely a means to a meal. Helen Rosner, The New Yorker, "The Best Cookbooks of the Century So Far," 14 July 2019 There are consumers protesting public officials by exerting pressure on private companies, as with the #GrabYourWallet protest that compelled Nordstrom to stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. John Paul Rollert, Fortune, "The Wayfair Walkout and the Rise of Activist Capitalism," 13 July 2019 The Democrat-run committee obtained documents after a bipartisan vote in February authorizing subpoenas compelling the Justice Department, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to turn over the information. Bill Lambrecht,, "Trump administration has separated toddlers from detained parents for up to 6 months, new report says," 12 July 2019 That merchandising approach helps compel customers to keep coming back to stores to discover new items. Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN, "Dollar General has a new strategy to win wealthier shoppers," 11 July 2019 The full House is expected to vote as soon as this week on an amendment to an annual defense authorization bill that would compel the administration to share Mr. Trump’s directive with Congress, the spokeswoman said. Dustin Volz, WSJ, "Trump Administration Hasn’t Briefed Congress on New Rules for Cyberattacks, Lawmakers Say," 10 July 2019 Taken together, these inclusions compel investors who track indices to allocate billions of dollars to China, even if some are wary of it. The Economist, "Foreign financiers look past the trade war and ramp up in China," 4 July 2019 The lawsuits have impacted Purdue’s sales, compelling the company to shrink its workforce and consider bankruptcy, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. Sam Tabachnik, The Denver Post, "Colorado expands opioid lawsuit, adding Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family," 1 July 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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Learn More about compel

Statistics for compel

Last Updated

18 Jul 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

Comments on compel

What made you want to look up compel? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to complain fretfully

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