im·​pel im-ˈpel How to pronounce impel (audio)
impelled; impelling

transitive verb

: to urge or drive forward or on by or as if by the exertion of strong moral pressure : force
felt impelled to correct the misconception
: to impart motion to : propel

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Impel vs Compel

Impel is very similar in meaning to compel, and often a perfect synonym, though it tends to suggest even more strongly an inner drive to do something and a greater urgency to act, especially for moral reasons. But when impel takes its noun and adjective forms, it changes slightly. So an impulse—such as "impulse buying", when you suddenly see something cool and know you've got to have it—often isn't based on anything very serious. And impulsive behavior in general, such as blurting out something stupid on the spur of the moment, is the kind of thing you're supposed to get over when you grow up.

Choose the Right Synonym for impel

move, actuate, drive, impel mean to set or keep in motion.

move is very general and implies no more than the fact of changing position.

moved the furniture

actuate stresses transmission of power so as to work or set in motion.

turbines actuated by waterpower

drive implies imparting forward and continuous motion and often stresses the effect rather than the impetus.

a ship driven aground by hurricane winds

impel is usually figurative and suggests a great motivating impetus.

a candidate impelled by ambition

Examples of impel in a Sentence

His interest in the American Civil War impelled him to make repeated visits to Gettysburg. She felt impelled to give a speech after the performance.
Recent Examples on the Web Last is the motives, values, and preferences inventory, which seeks to capture what impels you and your purpose. Trey Williams, Fortune, 12 Sep. 2023 The title track to her 13th album is impelled by acoustic guitars, strings and a full chorus that details her emotional stamina. Melissa Ruggieri, USA TODAY, 17 Aug. 2023 China’s economic policies are shifting, too, impelled both by the pandemic, which revealed the vulnerability of global supply chains, and by U.S. attempts at economic decoupling. Yan Xuetong, Foreign Affairs, 22 June 2021 Yet placing too much stock in this logic would be unwise; if Beijing decides to use force, it will be impelled principally by other political and geopolitical reasons. Larry Diamond, Jim Ellis, Foreign Affairs, 17 July 2023 The need to evolve from a Clamor into a Teo impelled a series of self-consciously virile escapades. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 26 June 2023 His frustration and anger at the press, however, impelled him to buck convention by suing newspaper owners — allegedly against the wishes of his father, now King Charles III. Brian Melley, Chicago Tribune, 5 June 2023 Caroline’s mother impelled her to travel to the family estate in Ireland, and Byron quickly moved on, taking up with Jane Harley, Countess of Oxford. Clare McHugh, Washington Post, 28 May 2023 But Tuesday seemed to outdo them all and to impel our still-wintry Washington air into memorably vigorous motion. Martin Weil, Washington Post, 15 Mar. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'impel.' 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 impellen, from Latin impellere, from in- + pellere to drive — more at felt

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of impel was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near impel

Cite this Entry

“Impel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


im·​pel im-ˈpel How to pronounce impel (audio)
impelled; impelling
: to urge or drive forward or into action

More from Merriam-Webster on impel

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