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 compel (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 Then, an environmental group is targeting state oil regulators, filing a suit to compel them to more closely follow environmental laws when handing out drilling permits. Mark Olalde, USA TODAY, "Climate Point: We made it back to Mars, but your earthly home might be in flood zone," 26 Feb. 2021 But their bill comes across as a larger attempt at behavior modification — as if forcing transgender youths to comply with required gender rules and roles will compel them to shake off their true identities. Rekha Basu, Star Tribune, "In Iowa, lawmakers wade into anti-trans school bathroom restrictions," 17 Feb. 2021 But nine months on, when experience has demonstrated that chain-smoking a pack of cigarettes doesn't compensate for human interaction, why do bad habits continue to compel us? NBC News, "Your brain on cortisol: Why overstressed gray matter is leading us astray in lockdown," 25 Dec. 2020 The world should do more to compel Mr. Xi to honor China’s promise of autonomy for Hong Kong. Paul Wolfowitz, WSJ, "The Korean War’s Lesson for Taiwan," 13 Oct. 2020 Agencies may go to court, report that Jack Jones has not paid, and get an order to compel him to pay. Donna Engle,, "Legal Matters: Unemployed parents must continue to pay child support," 26 Sep. 2020 That has created this kind of counterforce, so that those who are within a system can have greater leverage to force or compel change. Kathleen Ronayne And Hilary Powell, USA TODAY, "Q&A: Sen. Kamala Harris says Democrats need to listen to young voters," 23 June 2020 Ideally, the momentum coming from these different directions will compel the police union to do the right thing in collective bargaining. Gilbert Garcia,, "Garcia: Police reform push in San Antonio operating on multiple tracks," 22 Jan. 2021 Their surveillance economics compel them to extract data from our lives at a massive scale. Billy Perrigo, Time, "We Need a Fundamental Reset.' Shoshana Zuboff on Building an Internet That Lets Democracy Flourish," 22 Jan. 2021

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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Learn More about compel

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

2 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Compel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

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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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