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 That year the law became a significant political weapon when Second Amendment advocates successfully recalled two lawmakers, Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron and compelled a third, Sen. Evie Hudak, to resign. Krista Kafer, The Denver Post, "Kafer: It’s time to change the recall," 12 Sep. 2019 Hardenbrook heard about Savanah Dehart's struggle with EEE, and was compelled to reach out to her mom. Kristen Jordan Shamus, USA TODAY, "Eastern equine encephalitis: Mom shares how she survived the rare mosquito-borne virus," 10 Sep. 2019 The wheels move at different speeds, too, which practically compels your brain to try and ride your sight from one wheel to the other. Duff Mcdonald, WIRED, "The Cosmic, Psychedelic, Glow-in-the-Dark Art of Alex Aliume," 20 Aug. 2019 The Janus decision was delivered on a 5-4 vote on June 27, 2018, and ruled that public unions cannot force or compel nonmembers to pay collective-bargaining fees. Andrew J. Campa, Glendale News-Press, "Glendale, Burbank teachers unions say Janus decision has been galvanizing, not dividing," 16 Aug. 2019 Booker, Harris and Warren endorsed reparations for slavery, Sen. Harris felt compelled to one-up them by promising an additional $100 billion to help poor blacks buy homes, ignoring poor whites, Latinos, Asian-Americans and Native Americans. Karl Rove, WSJ, "The Democrats Go to Extremes," 10 July 2019 The Dodgers had invested a sizable sum in Yadier Alvarez, and felt compelled to protect their investment. Andy Mccullough,, "How the Houston Astros nabbed slugger Yordan Alvarez from the Dodgers," 6 July 2019 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

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

24 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for compel

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

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on compel

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for compel

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with compel

Spanish Central: Translation of compel

Nglish: Translation of compel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of compel for Arabic Speakers

Comments on compel

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a calculated move

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