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.

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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 In fact, that’s the activity that makes the story—which is headed back to the big screen in February care of —so compelling; Emma’s compulsion to pair off her friends ends up complicating her life in seemingly disastrous ways. Adam Rathe, Town & Country, "Watch an Exclusive Clip of Anya Taylor-Joy in the New Emma," 16 Dec. 2019 Need a little extra holiday spirit and a light compulsion to shop? Ruth Kinane,, "The 25 best holiday commercials of 2019," 9 Dec. 2019 Internet changing medicine Darrin’s internet searches from the van would grow into a compulsion that consumed every spare moment of his life over the next few weeks. Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "After his son's mysterious death, a Wisconsin dad researched 6,000 rare diseases. Then doctors found the answer that saved his other child.," 26 Nov. 2019 This is a better alternative to perpetually seeking private growth capital, where there is little compulsion to generate profits. Karthik Reddy, Quartz India, "Why aren’t more Indian startups chasing IPOs? A VC asks," 17 Oct. 2019 The fact that the thoughts don’t go away quickly on their own, and instead stick in the mind is where the compulsions come in. Elizabeth King, Allure, "Everything You Should Know About OCD," 15 Oct. 2019 But not even Tebow is convinced Meyer can overcome his coaching compulsion. Mike Bianchi,, "Tim Tebow: It’s time for Gators to embrace Urban Meyer | Commentary," 11 Oct. 2019 The left today has a compulsion to force obedience again and again. Daniel Henninger, WSJ, "Wahooing Betsy Ross," 10 July 2019 Labeling this choice as an addiction, versus a compulsion triggered by a lack of attention, suspends your personal responsibility for your own behavior. Amy Dickinson,, "Ask Amy: Online addict worries about relationship," 23 Oct. 2019

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for compulsion

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for compulsion

Last Updated

27 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Compulsion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for compulsion


How to pronounce compulsion (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of compulsion

: a very strong desire to do something
: the act of using force or pressure to make someone do something
: the state of being forced to do something


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

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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.

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