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 compunction (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 One of the many boundaries that Donald Trump shattered was this one; there is now no compunction about politicizing the deaths of Americans on a mission abroad. Chris Cillizza, CNN, 27 Aug. 2021 Republicans also displayed no compunction about assailing the patriotism of incumbent Democrats such as Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who had lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 16 Aug. 2021 Medusa is vamping, without much compunction, Revealing the writhing of thanatophidia. Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2021 The victim was Jewish, and Joan has no compunction about expressing her antisemitic bigotry in the most crude and vile terms., 2 Aug. 2021 Henceforth the quest, the hero’s journey, is to write what has to be written, without compunction. James Parker, The Atlantic, 13 Mar. 2021 However, there is no significant budgetary reform in the offing, and California’s cities and counties feel no compunction to address the issue. Ike Brannon, Forbes, 1 Mar. 2021 By 2020, management had little compunction about stepping over the threshold, and surveillance is now almost standard, within offices as well as outside them. Richard Cooke, The New Republic, 4 Jan. 2021 But there’s a compunction now to fill our time with activities, with experiences that are ‘special’ in some way, with work and most of all with busy-ness. Dave Murphy,, 13 Nov. 2020

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

Dictionary Entries Near compunction

compulsory listing



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for compunction

Last Updated

2 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Compunction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for compunction



English Language Learners Definition of compunction

: a feeling of guilt or regret : remorse

More from Merriam-Webster on compunction

Nglish: Translation of compunction for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of compunction for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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