com·​punc·​tion kəm-ˈpəŋ(k)-shən How to pronounce compunction (audio)
: anxiety arising from awareness of guilt
compunctions of conscience
: distress of mind over an anticipated action or result
… showed no compunction in planning devilish engines of … destruction. Havelock Ellis
: a twinge of misgiving : scruple
cheated without compunction
… he had no compunction about brushing aside legal technicalities. Robert Penn Warren
compunctious adjective

Did you know?

An old proverb says "a guilty conscience needs no accuser," and it's true that the sting of a guilty conscience—or a conscience that is provoked by the contemplation of doing something wrong—can prick very hard indeed. The sudden guilty "prickings" of compunction are reflected in the word's etymological history. Compunction comes (via Anglo-French compunction and Middle English compunccioun) from Latin compungere, which means "to prick hard" or "to sting." Compungere, in turn, derives from pungere, meaning "to prick," which is the ancestor of some other prickly words in English, such as puncture and even point.

Choose the Right Synonym for compunction

penitence, repentance, contrition, compunction, remorse mean regret for sin or wrongdoing.

penitence implies sad and humble realization of and regret for one's misdeeds.

absolution is dependent upon sincere penitence

repentance adds the implication of a resolve to change.

repentance accompanied by a complete change of character

contrition stresses the sorrowful regret that constitutes true penitence.

tearful expressions of contrition

compunction implies a painful sting of conscience especially for contemplated wrongdoing.

had no compunctions about taking back what is mine

remorse suggests prolonged and insistent self-reproach and mental anguish for past wrongs and especially for those whose consequences cannot be remedied.

thieves untroubled by feelings of remorse

qualm, scruple, compunction, demur mean a misgiving about what one is doing or going to do.

qualm implies an uneasy fear that one is not following one's conscience or better judgment.

no qualms about plagiarizing

scruple implies doubt of the rightness of an act on grounds of principle.

no scruples against buying stolen goods

compunction implies a spontaneous feeling of responsibility or compassion for a potential victim.

had compunctions about lying

demur implies hesitation caused by objection to an outside suggestion or influence.

accepted her decision without demur

Example Sentences

a brutal murderer who killed without compunction He feels no compunction about his crimes. He has no compunctions about his crimes.
Recent Examples on the Web So too did politicians, many of whom lied without compunction or countenanced the lies of others solely to bolster their own political purposes. Heather Wilhelm, National Review, 29 Sep. 2022 Milchick forces Helly to repeatedly read a compunction statement. Carolyn Giardina, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Aug. 2022 Trump apparently feels no compunction, as a former President, about questioning the legitimacy of the nation’s courts or the rule of law. Steve Coll, The New Yorker, 5 June 2022 Lloyd has no compunction about kidnapping Fitzroy’s niece (Julia Butters) as leverage, for instance. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 14 July 2022 In the end, Johnson was, is, an entitled, charismatic politician, who has felt the rules were made for others, and had no compunction about fabricating stories to get his way. Frida Ghitis, CNN, 12 July 2022 Two, the British Tories have an ingrained culture of stabbing their leaders in the back and in the front without compunction. NBC News, 10 July 2022 The Biden administration still has the opportunity to determine definitively who killed Shireen Abu Akleh and turn her case into a deterrent for those who might otherwise have little compunction about murdering members of the press. Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, 7 June 2022 The man who had no compunction whatsoever about slaughtering children left a woman who just tried to kill him alive. Erik Kain, Forbes, 15 June 2022 See More

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

Word History


Middle English compunccioun, from Anglo-French compunction, from Late Latin compunction-, compunctio, from Latin compungere to prick hard, sting, from com- + pungere to prick — more at pungent

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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


Dictionary Entries Near compunction

Cite this Entry

“Compunction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



com·​punc·​tion kəm-ˈpəŋ(k)-shən How to pronounce compunction (audio)
: sharp uneasiness caused by a sense of guilt : remorse
: a passing feeling of regret for some slight wrong

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