com·​punc·​tion | \ kəm-ˈpəŋ(k)-shən How to pronounce compunction (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from compunction

compunctious \ kəm-​ˈpəŋ(k)-​shəs How to pronounce compunctious (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for compunction


Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web And when his memoir reaches his professional zenith, Sonnenfeld’s compunction for oversharing pays off. Dave Itzkoff, New York Times, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Neurotic Filmmaker’s Life Story," 10 Mar. 2020 In the past, Sanders has had no compunction about speaking at conferences held by the left-wing J Street group, where some speakers have espoused an anti-Zionism that denies Jewish rights. Jonathan S. Tobin, National Review, "Sanders Would Radically Shift U.S. Middle East Policy for the Worse," 28 Feb. 2020 That should be done not out of moral compunction but because local businessmen or financiers can’t save the economy. Washington Post, "Modi, Resist the Urge to Be India’s Xi Jinping," 18 Sep. 2019 The current team — with Esper now leading the Pentagon — had no such compunctions. Joel Mathis, TheWeek, "The Pentagon is Trump's worst enabler," 13 Jan. 2020 Companies can turn instead to private cybersecurity firms, largely staffed by former FBI agents, which have no compunctions about paying ransoms, and typically share findings with clients, George said. Renee Dudley, ProPublica, "Like Voldemort, Ransomware Is Too Scary to Be Named," 23 Dec. 2019 Three Musketeers As the race has worn on, three of the front-runners have become more at ease fighting openly with each other — Warren, Buttigieg and Biden — while the fourth, Sanders, has never had much compunction about scrapping. Jonathan Allen, NBC News, "Five things to watch at the December Democratic debate," 19 Dec. 2019 Yet they are raised and slaughtered without (much) compunction. Aziz Huq, Washington Post, "Do we have moral obligations to a machine that achieves consciousness?," 22 Nov. 2019 The insurgents had no compunction about using innocent villagers as human shields. The Economist, "Sri Lanka’s new president has a worrying past," 21 Nov. 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about compunction

Time Traveler for compunction

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about compunction

Statistics for compunction

Cite this Entry

“Compunction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for compunction


How to pronounce compunction (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of compunction

: a feeling of guilt or regret

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on compunction

What made you want to look up compunction? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!