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 good times, U.S. policy makers feel no compulsion to normalize, and in bad times no reason or ability to do so. Kevin Warsh, WSJ, "Beijing’s Bid for Financial Supremacy," 4 Jan. 2021 Multiple clues throughout the premiere tell us Ronald’s abduction compulsion is much bigger than one man’s perverse fixation. Ariana Romero,, "This Is WTF Big Sky Is About — Including That Premiere Twist," 17 Nov. 2020 This year, even the compulsion to shop for the holidays might look a bit different as the world nears the one-year mark since the coronavirus outbreak. Mia Sato, The New Republic, "The Empty Ethics of “Shop Small”," 21 Dec. 2020 In the context of a quarantine, indulging in alcohol is an understandable human compulsion, said Dr. Danesh Alam, who specializes in addiction psychiatry at Northwestern Medicine. Stephanie Reynolds,, "Alcohol, weed, drugs and your health during the COVID-19 pandemic," 17 Dec. 2020 But while my toenails are longer now, the damage from my former compulsion is apparent — especially on my left big toenail. Marci Robin, Allure, "Press-On Toenails Are My Weird Secret for a Cute, Quick Pedicure," 25 Nov. 2020 Throughout the Sturm und Drang produced by her lifelong compulsion to get up and go, Jameson wrote at least one novel a year, plus stories, essays, articles, and political journalism by the yard. Vivian Gornick, Harper's Magazine, "“If Only I Could Begin Again!”," 24 Nov. 2020 According to Maria Sorbara Mora, RD, an eating disorder and exercise compulsion expert, this reaction was normal. Olivia Muenter,, "I Quit Dieting for Good—But Escaping Diet Culture Was a Whole Other Factor," 3 Nov. 2020 Wildcatting, the compulsion to turn one rifle cartridge case into another, is a uniquely American aberration, like corn dogs. David E. Petzal, Field & Stream, "The 4 Best Wildcat Rifle Cartridges Ever," 26 Oct. 2020

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

19 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Compulsion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for compulsion



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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