com·​pel kəm-ˈpel How to pronounce compel (audio)
compelled; compelling

transitive verb

: to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly
Hunger compelled him to eat.
The general was compelled to surrender.
: to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure
Public opinion compelled her to sign the bill.
archaic : to drive together
compellable adjective

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.

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

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 Tal is initially skeptical of his sister’s conspiracy theories, but after receiving a call demanding answers about the judge’s arrangements, he’s compelled to look closer. Aramide Tinubu, Variety, 14 July 2024 Biden has made combating political extremism the central plank of his campaign, repeatedly telling supporters that Trump's response to far-right extremism in Charlottesville, Virginia, compelled him to run. Mike Allen, Axios, 14 July 2024 Allowing a reformist candidate into the race would, presumably, compel more Iranians — particularly in the cities and among the young — to engage. Daniel Depetris, The Mercury News, 13 July 2024 My sense of duty compels me to fight (for) positive progress for Fountain Hills. Sam Kmack, The Arizona Republic, 9 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for compel 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'compel.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near compel

Cite this Entry

“Compel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


com·​pel kəm-ˈpel How to pronounce compel (audio)
compelled; compelling
: to cause to do something by the use of physical, moral, or mental pressure : force
illness compelled him to stay in bed
: exact entry 1, extort
compel obedience
compeller noun

Legal Definition


transitive verb
com·​pel kəm-ˈpel How to pronounce compel (audio)
compelled; compelling
: 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 clauseR. H. Bork

More from Merriam-Webster on compel

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