[kuh m-puhl-shuh n]
See more synonyms for compulsion on
  1. the act of compelling; constraint; coercion.
  2. the state or condition of being compelled.
  3. Psychology. a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, especially one that is irrational or contrary to one's will.

Origin of compulsion

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 formsnon·com·pul·sion, nounpre·com·pul·sion, noun
Can be confusedcompulsion compunction Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for compulsion

Contemporary Examples of compulsion

Historical Examples of compulsion

  • And do you think me so spiritless as to believe that I can be yours by compulsion?

    Maid Marian

    Thomas Love Peacock

  • You can wish you had stood all this; inevitable as the compulsion must have been!

    Clarissa, Volume 3 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • I only know that I must wait—that compulsion is greater than my strength to combat.

    There is a Reaper ...

    Charles V. De Vet

  • The method of compulsion failed to keep the tenants on the land.

  • She was driven by a compulsion to which fatigue was nothing.

    The Innocent Adventuress

    Mary Hastings Bradley

British Dictionary definitions for compulsion


  1. the act of compelling or the state of being compelled
  2. something that compels
  3. psychiatry an inner drive that causes a person to perform actions, often of a trivial and repetitive nature, against his or her willSee also obsession

Word Origin for compulsion

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

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

compulsion in Medicine


  1. 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.

compulsion in Culture


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 New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.