com·​pul·​sion | \ kəm-ˈpəl-shən How to pronounce compulsion (audio) \

Definition of compulsion

1a : an act of compelling tried to get them to cooperate without using compulsion : the state of being compelled He was acting under compulsion.
b : a force that compels
2 : an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (such as excessive hand washing) her compulsion to repeatedly check and recheck the stove to be certain that it is turned off also : the act itself Gambling is a compulsion with him.

Examples of compulsion in a Sentence

I gave in to one of my compulsions and ordered the chocolate dessert. We should be able to get them to cooperate without using compulsion.
Recent Examples on the Web Social games forced players to turn friends into resources to feed a design based on compulsion rather than diversion. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 13 Mar. 2022 Two years of wildfires and heat waves in Portland had stirred up something sleeping inside her, a compulsion to prepare for disaster. New York Times, 6 Feb. 2022 In fact, Brown was a seductive iconoclast with a Katharine Hepburn mane and a compulsion for ignoring the rules. Anna Holmes, The New Yorker, 31 Jan. 2022 In Illinois, compulsion and coercion are not legal defenses for first-degree murder, Mansfield said., 29 Jan. 2022 Some interpreters also consider intense hunger and thirst as well as compulsion (someone threatening another to do something) exceptions. Fiza Pirani, ajc, 8 Apr. 2022 Each of these observers was given a tic, motif, or symbolic compulsion to distinguish and vivify his or her narration. Mark Greif, The Atlantic, 15 Mar. 2022 Perhaps the biggest perk for younger children is that children who are taught empathy are generally better able to regulate big feelings, show less aggression and feel less compulsion to bully. Washington Post, 28 Feb. 2022 Lacking evidence for masks is a sufficient reason to justify their removal — compulsion should not continue without reason — but this paucity is only half of the question. Daniel Buck, National Review, 5 Feb. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'compulsion.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of compulsion

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for compulsion

Middle English compulsion, compulsioun "coercion," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French compulsion, borrowed from Latin compulsiōn-, compulsiō, derivative, with the suffix of verbal action -tiōn-, -tiō, of compellere "to drive together, force to go, force (to a view, course of action)" (with -s- from past participle compulsus); (sense 2) translation of German Zwang — more at compel

Learn More About compulsion

Time Traveler for compulsion

Time Traveler

The first known use of compulsion was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near compulsion



compulsion neurosis

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for compulsion

Last Updated

14 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Compulsion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for compulsion


com·​pul·​sion | \ kəm-ˈpəl-shən How to pronounce compulsion (audio) \

Kids Definition of compulsion

1 : a very strong urge to do something He felt a compulsion to say something.
2 : a force that makes someone do something She was acting under compulsion.
3 : an act or the state of forcing an action They got what they wanted through compulsion.


com·​pul·​sion | \ kəm-ˈpəl-shən How to pronounce compulsion (audio) \

Medical Definition of compulsion

: an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (as excessive hand washing) also : the act itself compare obsession, phobia


com·​pul·​sion | \ kəm-ˈpəl-shən How to pronounce compulsion (audio) \

Legal Definition of compulsion

1 : an act of compelling (as by threat or intimidation) specifically : coercion a payment exacted by lawless compulsion — E. A. Farnsworth and W. F. Young
2 : the state of being compelled specifically : duress

Note: Compulsion can make a contract voidable or be a ground for damages or restitution. Compulsion may also be a defense to a criminal act.

More from Merriam-Webster on compulsion

Nglish: Translation of compulsion for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of compulsion for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about compulsion


Test Your Vocabulary

Name That Color

  • a light greenish blue color
  • Name that color:
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!