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

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 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.

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 Milchick forces Helly to repeatedly read a compunction statement. Carolyn Giardina, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Aug. 2022 Trump apparently feels no compunction, as a former President, about questioning the legitimacy of the nation’s courts or the rule of law. Steve Coll, The New Yorker, 5 June 2022 Lloyd has no compunction about kidnapping Fitzroy’s niece (Julia Butters) as leverage, for instance. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 14 July 2022 In the end, Johnson was, is, an entitled, charismatic politician, who has felt the rules were made for others, and had no compunction about fabricating stories to get his way. Frida Ghitis, CNN, 12 July 2022 Two, the British Tories have an ingrained culture of stabbing their leaders in the back and in the front without compunction. NBC News, 10 July 2022 The Biden administration still has the opportunity to determine definitively who killed Shireen Abu Akleh and turn her case into a deterrent for those who might otherwise have little compunction about murdering members of the press. Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, 7 June 2022 The man who had no compunction whatsoever about slaughtering children left a woman who just tried to kill him alive. Erik Kain, Forbes, 15 June 2022 For me, reciting the compunction statement became a prayerful reckoning with herself. Jennifer Maas, Variety, 4 June 2022 See More

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.

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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compulsory listing



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Last Updated

26 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Compunction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on compunction

Nglish: Translation of compunction for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of compunction for Arabic Speakers


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