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

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Other Words from compunction

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

Synonyms for compunction


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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 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 were posts, by the way, in which Kelly showed no compunction about advancing immigration policies of unexampled cruelty. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 30 Oct. 2020 With the benefit of 50 years’ hindsight, though, DuBois himself had no such compunction. Matt Brennan, Los Angeles Times, 26 Oct. 2020 Neither the president nor those 100-plus employees of a major bank show any compunction about cheating. Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2020 Even though Mary’s grandfather had been called to account for this practice by both New York state and United States Senate investigators, Donald felt no compunction about using it. Andrea Bernstein, The New York Review of Books, 5 Oct. 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.

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

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Cite this Entry

“Compunction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for compunction



English Language Learners Definition of compunction

: a feeling of guilt or regret


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