Professional Style

Compel vs. Impel

October 2016
Spot the ErrorUnderstanding that Councilman Wynn was the swing vote, developers did all they could to impel him to vote for the proposed change in zoning.

This is a tricky one because impel and compel are analogous.

Impel means to literally push forward or to provide a strong internal motive or incentive. Example:

  • The wind impels a sailboat.
  • The desire to buy things impels teenagers to get a paying job.

Compel, on the other hand, means to force or drive to action, and the force is usually external. In the “zoning” sentence above, the developers were the force compelling the councilman.


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