[ kuhm-puhs ]
See synonyms for: compasscompassed on

  1. an instrument for determining directions, as by means of a freely rotating magnetized needle that indicates magnetic north.

  2. the enclosing line or limits of any area; perimeter: You can find anything you want downtown within the compass of ten square blocks.

  1. space within limits; area; extent; range; scope: the narrow compass of the strait;the broad compass of the novel.

  2. Also called range . the total range of tones of a voice or of a musical instrument.

  3. due or proper limits; moderate bounds: Their behavior stayed within the compass of propriety.

  4. a passing round; circuit: the compass of a year.

  5. Often compasses . an instrument for drawing or describing circles, measuring distances, etc., consisting generally of two movable, rigid legs hinged to each other at one end (usually used with pair of): to spread the legs of a compass and draw a larger circle.

  6. Astronomy.

    • Compass. Also called Mar·i·ner's Com·pass [mar-uh-nerz kuhm-puhs] /ˈmær ə nərz ˈkʌm pəs/ . the constellation Pyxis.

    • Compasses, the constellation Circinus.

  1. curved; forming a curve or arc: a compass timber;compass roof.

verb (used with object)
  1. to go or move round; make the circuit of: It would take a week to compass his property on foot.

  2. to extend or stretch around; hem in; surround; encircle: An old stone wall compasses their property.

  1. to attain or achieve; accomplish; obtain: To have compassed this task in the limited time available is no mean achievement.

  2. to contrive; plot; scheme: to compass a treacherous plan.

  3. to make curved or circular.

  4. to comprehend; to grasp, as with the mind: His mind could not compass the extent of the disaster.

Origin of compass

First recorded in 1250–1300; (verb) Middle English compassen, from Old French compasser “to measure,” from unattested Vulgar Latin compāssāre, equivalent to compāss(us), “equal step” (Latin com- com- + pāssus pace1) + -āre verb suffix; (noun) Middle English compas, from Old French, derivative of compasser

synonym study For compass

3. See range.

Other words from compass

  • com·pass·a·ble, adjective
  • com·pass·less, adjective
  • out·com·pass, verb (used with object)
  • pre·com·pass, verb (used with object), noun
  • un·com·pass·a·ble, adjective

Words Nearby compass Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use compass in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for compass


/ (ˈkʌmpəs) /

  1. an instrument for finding direction, usually having a magnetized needle which points to magnetic north swinging freely on a pivot

  2. Also called: pair of compasses (often plural) an instrument used for drawing circles, measuring distances, etc, that consists of two arms, joined at one end, one arm of which serves as a pivot or stationary reference point, while the other is extended or describes a circle

  1. limits or range: within the compass of education

  2. music the interval between the lowest and highest note attainable by a voice or musical instrument

  3. archaic a circular course

  1. to encircle or surround; hem in

  2. to comprehend or grasp mentally

  1. to achieve; attain; accomplish

  2. obsolete to plot

Origin of compass

C13: from Old French compas, from compasser to measure, from Vulgar Latin compassāre (unattested) to pace out, ultimately from Latin passus step

Derived forms of compass

  • compassable, adjective

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

Scientific definitions for compass


[ kŭmpəs ]

  1. A device used to determine geographical direction, usually consisting of a magnetic needle mounted on a pivot, aligning itself naturally with the Earth's magnetic field so that it points to the Earth's geomagnetic north or south pole.

  2. A device used for drawing circles and arcs and for measuring distances on maps, consisting of two legs hinged together at one end.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.