com·​punc·​tion | \kəm-ˈpəŋ(k)-shən \

Definition of compunction 

1a : anxiety arising from awareness of guilt compunctions of conscience

b : distress of mind over an anticipated action or result … showed no compunction in planning devilish engines of … destruction.— Havelock Ellis

2 : a twinge of misgiving : scruple cheated without compunction … he had no compunction about brushing aside legal technicalities.— Robert Penn Warren

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Other Words from compunction

compunctious \kəm-​ˈpəŋ(k)-​shən-​shəs \ adjective

Synonyms for compunction


misgiving, qualm, scruple

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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

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 the Anglo-French compunction and the Middle English compunccioun) from the 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."

Examples of compunction in a Sentence

a brutal murderer who killed without compunction He feels no compunction about his crimes. He has no compunctions about his crimes.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Men have never felt compunction about doing this to women. Jennifer Wright, Harper's BAZAAR, "When Men Demand Your Attention, It's OK to Ignore Them," 22 Aug. 2018 Security experts were aghast that reporters were left vulnerable in a country that has shown no compunction in detaining westerners for months or years on very slight pretexts. Heather Hurlburt, Daily Intelligencer, "What Happens When You Treat Nuclear Diplomacy Like a Reality TV Show," 24 May 2018 During the first half of the 20th century, feisty Parliaments had little compunction about flexing their muscles. Reuel Marc Gerecht And, WSJ, "Don’t Fear Regime Change in Iran," 11 June 2018 So proud of @ABCNetwork for having the ethical compunction to cancel #Rosanne (sic) despite the show’s huge numbers. Mariah Haas, Fox News, "Roseanne Barr's ex-husband Tom Arnold is among the stars praising ABC for canceling her show," 29 May 2018 And given the ubiquity of AI, what use might terrorists, devoid of compunction, make of it? The Economist, "When weapons can think for themselves," 26 Apr. 2018 Analysts say the movement brutality’s was unmatched and, as outsiders to Afghanistan, the Uzbek fighters show no compunction about carrying out mass killings. Kathy Gannon, The Seattle Times, "Q&A: How strong is the Islamic State group in Afghanistan," 22 Apr. 2018 But the sanctions episode is a stark reminder that this president has little compunction about letting his top staffers and appointees dangle. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Barbara Bush and Donald Trump responded very differently to the AIDS epidemic," 19 Apr. 2018 The previous generation, including men like his father, had been white supremacists who felt little compunction about the fact that their wealth came from dispossessing blacks. Karan Mahajan, The New Republic, "After the Strongman," 26 Mar. 2018

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.

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First Known Use of compunction

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

History and Etymology for compunction

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

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Last Updated

19 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for compunction

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

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English Language Learners Definition of compunction

: a feeling of guilt or regret ( chiefly US )

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