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From Middle English compellen, borrowed from Middle French compellir, from Latin compellere, itself from com- (together) + pellere (to drive). Displaced native Old English nīedan.


  • IPA(key): /kəmˈpɛl/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɛl
  • Hyphenation: com‧pel


compel (third-person singular simple present compels, present participle compelling, simple past and past participle compelled)

  1. (transitive, archaic, literally) To drive together, round up (Can we add an example for this sense?)
  2. (transitive) To overpower; to subdue.
    • 1917, Upton Sinclair, chapter 16, in King Coal:
      She had one of those perfect faces, which irresistibly compel the soul of a man.
  3. (transitive) To force, constrain or coerce.
    Logic compels the wise, while fools feel compelled by emotions.
    • 1599 (first performance), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Iulius Cæsar”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene i]:
      Against my will, / As Pompey was, am I compell’d to set / Upon one battle all our liberties.
    • 1827, Henry Hallam, The Constitutional History of England from the Accession of Henry VII. to the Death of George II. [], volumes (please specify |volume=I or II), London: John Murray, [], →OCLC:
      Wolsey [] compelled the people to pay up the whole subsidy at once.
    • 2020, N. K. Jemisin, The City We Became, Orbit, page 173:
      And then she giggles, inordinately pleased by her own cleverness.
    • December 15 2022, Samanth Subramanian, “Dismantling Sellafield: the epic task of shutting down a nuclear site”, in The Guardian[1]:
      Sellafield compels this kind of gaze into the abyss of deep time because it is a place where multiple time spans – some fleeting, some cosmic – drift in and out of view.
  4. (transitive) To exact, extort, (make) produce by force.
  5. (obsolete) To force to yield; to overpower; to subjugate.
  6. (obsolete) To gather or unite in a crowd or company.
  7. (obsolete) To call forth; to summon.

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