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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Schwartz has no such ties and no such compunctions. Longreads, 15 Mar. 2024 And without that path for growth, Gen Z has no compunctions about moving on to a better opportunity. Lisa Conn, Forbes, 26 Feb. 2024 This falls just short of rudely demanding an invitation — although Miss Manners acknowledges that your friends have no such compunction. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 30 Dec. 2023 Cortés and his men are rough mercenaries who rape, plunder and murder without compunction. Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Los Angeles Times, 2 Jan. 2024 The Palestinians have been living in an Israeli walled prison for many years, and have continued to have their land grabbed by Israeli settlers without compunction. Adam Taylor, Washington Post, 13 Dec. 2023 This time around Trump would be surrounded by aides who know how to wield the levers of power—and would have no compunctions about bludgeoning career federal employees, law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the media. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 9 Oct. 2023 These are people who have no compunctions about slandering working Americans while taking every opportunity themselves for slacking off. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 28 Sep. 2023 That your friend felt no such compunction for your safety will be implied. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 23 Sep. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'compunction.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 19 Jun. 2024.

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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