com·​pul·​sion | \kəm-ˈpəl-shən \

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

However, the accusations made by Evans and the unnamed woman involved forcible compulsion and therefore were not subject to a statute of limitations under a New York law changed in 2001. Eliana Dockterman, Time, "Harvey Weinstein’s Arrest Marks a Pivotal Turning Point for the #MeToo Movement," 25 May 2018 Not just by the compulsion of use, but in the physical connection to it by thin, white wire. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Apple's Airpods Are an Omen," 12 June 2018 His compulsion to evoke the Holocaust came from far beyond. The Economist, "Claude Lanzmann died on July 5th," 12 July 2018 It’s hard to imagine such a change taking place while companies like Twitter rely on the aspiration of visible metrics as a compulsion to use their services. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "All Followers Are Fake Followers," 30 Jan. 2018 There’s the economy of attention that draws users of games like Candy Crush and apps like Facebook into the compulsion loop of repetitive use. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Why Is There a ‘Gaming Disorder’ But No ‘Smartphone Disorder?’," 28 June 2018 In one 2013 study, for instance, researchers found that stimulating one region of the brain with light appeared to reduce lab rats’ compulsion to seek cocaine. Catherine Ho, San Francisco Chronicle, "Stanford scientist Karl Deisseroth wins Japan’s highest honor for brain research," 14 June 2018 These compulsions are also different for everyone with OCD and sometimes aren’t permanent. Shannon Purser, Teen Vogue, "Shannon Purser on Coping With OCD and Suicidal Ideation," 4 May 2018 North and Weingast discuss two ways in which kings’ hands can be tied: voluntarily or by compulsion. Henry Farrell, Margaret Levi, Vox, "Mark Zuckerberg runs a nation-state, and he’s the king," 9 Apr. 2018

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, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin compulsion-, compulsio, from Latin compellere to compel

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

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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 \

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 \

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 \

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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playful or foolish behavior

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