from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The act of compelling.
  • n. The state of being compelled.
  • n. An irresistible impulse to act, regardless of the rationality of the motivation: "The compulsion to protect the powerful from the discomfort of public disclosure feeds further abuse and neglect” ( Boston Globe).
  • n. An act or acts performed in response to such an impulse.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An irrational need to perform some action, often despite negative consequences.
  • n. The use of authority, influence, or other power to force (compel) a person or persons to act.
  • n. The lawful use of violence (i.e. by the administration).

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The act of compelling, or the state of being compelled; the act of driving or urging by force or by physical or moral constraint; subjection to force.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The application (to a person) of superior force, physical or moral, overpowering or overruling his preferences; the force applied; constraint, physical or moral.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. an irrational motive for performing trivial or repetitive actions, even against your will
  • n. an urge to do or say something that might be better left undone or unsaid
  • n. using force to cause something to occur


Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin compulsiō, compulsiōn-, from Latin compulsus, past participle of compellere, to compel; see compel.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Late Latin compulsiō, from Latin compellere ("to compel, coerce"); see compel. (Wiktionary)



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