noun com·punc·tion \ kəm-ˈpəŋ(k)-shən \
|Updated on: 18 Jun 2018

Definition of compunction

1 a : 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


play \kəm-ˈpəŋ(k)-shən-shəs\ adjective

compunction was our Word of the Day on 02/02/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of compunction in a Sentence

  1. a brutal murderer who killed without compunction

  2. He feels no compunction about his crimes.

  3. He has no compunctions about his crimes.

Recent Examples of compunction from the Web

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.

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."

Origin and Etymology of 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

Synonym Discussion of 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

COMPUNCTION Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of compunction for English Language Learners

  • : a feeling of guilt or regret ( chiefly US )

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one who attends or assists a leader

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