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[kuh m-puhl-shuh n] /kəmˈpʌl ʃən/
the act of compelling; constraint; coercion.
the state or condition of being compelled.
Psychology. a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, especially one that is irrational or contrary to one's will.
Origin of compulsion
late Middle English
1375-1425; late Middle English (< Anglo-French) < Late Latin compulsiōn- (stem of compulsiō), equivalent to Latin compuls(us), past participle of compellere to compel (com- com- + pul- variant stem + -sus past participle suffix) + -iōn- -ion
Related forms
noncompulsion, noun
precompulsion, noun
Can be confused
compulsion, compunction. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for compulsion
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He divided the world between his children in accordance with the laws of the country and the compulsion of his circumstances.

    The Promised Land Mary Antin
  • And to these the Leagued Nations had listened, if rather by compulsion than respect.

    The World Peril of 1910 George Griffith
  • Religion demands the submission of a free conscience, and uses no compulsion but that imposed by its own inherent dignity.

    The Relations Between Religion and Science Frederick, Lord Bishop of Exeter
  • "I am under no compulsion to listen to you," Knupf said after a pause.

    Wizard Laurence Mark Janifer (AKA Larry M. Harris)
  • Only in the range of the spiritual are we twenty years behind time, trying to get the best construction by compulsion.

    English: Composition and Literature W. F. (William Franklin) Webster
British Dictionary definitions for compulsion


the act of compelling or the state of being compelled
something that compels
(psychiatry) an inner drive that causes a person to perform actions, often of a trivial and repetitive nature, against his or her will See also obsession
Word Origin
C15: from Old French, from Latin compellere to compel
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for compulsion

early 15c., from Middle French compulsion, from Latin compulsionem (nominative compulsio) "a driving, urging," noun of action from past participle stem of compellere "compel" (see compel). Psychological sense is from 1909 in A.A. Brill's translation of Freud's "Selected Papers on Hysteria," where German Zwangsneurose is rendered as compulsion neurosis.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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compulsion in Medicine

compulsion com·pul·sion (kəm-pŭl'shən)
An uncontrollable impulse to perform an act, often repetitively, as an unconscious mechanism to avoid unacceptable ideas and desires which, by themselves, arouse anxiety.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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compulsion in Culture

compulsion definition

In psychology, an internal force that leads persons to act against their will. A “compulsive” act cannot be controlled: “Smith was a compulsive gambler.”

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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