force, oblige, compell [compel]

Takahero

Senior Member
Japanese
Hello.

"force A to do", "oblige A to do" and "compell A to do" are similar in that they are causative.
What is the difference between them?

Thank you for your reply.
 
  • Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Yes.

    She was compelled / forced / obliged to resign because of the scandal.

    What is the difference between them?
     

    jipol

    New Member
    Russian
    Yes.

    She was compelled / forced / obliged to resign because of the scandal.

    What is the difference between them?
    -She was forced to resign because of the scandal. //The situation is simply beyond her control.
    -She was obligated to fulfill a contract. //She has obligations, i.e. duty.
    -She was compelled to be a witness in a court. //In my opinion one can be compelled by its superior or law.
     
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    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    In this case

    She was forced to resign because of the scandal ----- suggests a third party, perhaps her boss, telling her to resign or she would be sacked.

    She was compelled to resign (etc) ----- also suggests a third party making her do it, but the compulsion could have come from her own beliefs.

    She was obliged to resign puts the responsibility on her more than the other two options do. We can feel obliged to do something without any external pressure. So it could come entrirely from her own beliefs that having created a scandal she had to leave the post.
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    To sum up, of the three expressions, "be forced to do" is the strongest because her resignation was forced by some external force and "be obliged to do" is the weakest because it is she that decided to resign. "be compelled to do" is between them.

    Am I right?

    Is it possible to add by her boss in the following sentences?

    She was forced to resign by her boss.
    She was compelled to resign by her boss.
    She was obliged to resign by her boss.
     
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    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Also, the verb is "to compel" with one "l" at the end, not "compell." The "l" is doubled in verb forms where it is followed by another vowel, to avoid changing the pronunciation of the "e" before it to a long "e," but that's a separate topic. (A few other verbs work the same way: propel, repel, dispel, ...)
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    forced = to be under threat and to be given no other choice
    Compelled = to be drawn inevitably to one conclusion or course of action, although there may be others
    Obliged = to take one course of action because it is your duty

    On a technicality, I do not think you can be forced to resign (other than by a physical beating/torture) because you can always say, "No". Obviously, you will then be fired...

    "He felt forced to resign" is quite common idiomatically, but it really means, "His conscience/public opinion/being jailed compelled him to resign" Thus, here, 'forced' = to feel compelled.

    So I think that of all three options:
    The first is idiomatic :tick:
    The second is probably best :tick:
    The third is not quite right because it is not an action that her boss could cause. :cross:
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    The third is not quite right because it is not an action that her boss could cause. :cross:

    Longman Advanced Learners Dictionary says that "Do not use oblige when you are talking about a person making someone do something".

    Do you think that oblige taking animate subjects is unacceptabale?
    (I found a sentence with oblige taking a human subject)
    ex. Don Cruickshank, the telecommunication regulator, has virtually obliged BT to buy Cable and Wireless...(Wordbank)
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    The third is not quite right because it is not an action that her boss could cause. :cross:

    Longman Advanced Learners Dictionary says that "Do not use oblige when you are talking about a person making someone do something".

    Do you think that oblige taking animate subjects is unacceptabale?

    (I found a sentence with oblige taking a human subject)
    ex. Don Cruickshank, the telecommunication regulator, has virtually obliged BT to buy Cable and Wireless...(Wordbank)
    Hello, Takahero. I answered this question in another thread of yours. I don't use "oblige" that way, but quite a few people do. :)
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    In general you can only ever get guidance about this sort of issue, not absolute black and white answers.

    There are no hard lines drawn between definitions with overlapping meanings, and you will always find some people will use words in slightly different ways. That is the joy of our language, for me. It is not Maths, not bounded by absolutes and we can make choices for ourselves.
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    A native speaker says that the following sentences are acceptabale.

    a. Students were obliged by the professor to take the course.
    b. Mary was obliged by the boss to stay in a job that she hated.

    What is the difference a, b and c?

    c. ×She was obliged to resign by her boss.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I don't see any difference in meaning here, Takahero. "Obliged" here means the same thing as "obligated" or "forced". The students, Mary, and "she" are all doing things that somebody else wants them to do. The word "obliged" in these sentences makes it clear that they are being controlled by somebody else's wishes as they do these things. They're probably not happy about that. I don't much like being "obliged", "obligated", or "forced" by others to do things I don't want to do. I suspect that many other people share my dislike for the situations that "obliged" expresses.
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I don't see any difference in meaning here, Takahero. "Obliged" here means the same thing as "obligated" or "forced". The students, Mary, and "she" are all doing things that somebody else wants them to do. The word "obliged" in these sentences makes it clear that they are being controlled by somebody else's wishes as they do these things. They're probably not happy about that. I don't much like being "obliged", "obligated", or "forced" by others to do things I don't want to do. I suspect that many other people share my dislike for the situations that "obliged" expresses.
    So there is no problem for "be obliged to do" to be used with "by someone", right?
    Why did paulQ reject "She was obliged to resign by her boss."?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    So there is no problem for "be obliged to do" to be used with "by someone", right?
    Why did paulQ reject "She was obliged to resign by her boss."?
    See post #11!
    By talking to her and explaining the moral and ethical issues of her situation, her boss made her realize that she ought to resign. This coul be interpreted as: His chat had made her feel obliged to resign. I think Paul* felt this was too indirect and that she was not obliged directly by her boss, but rather she felt obliged once her moral compass had been adjusted by the chat with her boss. Is that sufficiently gray to illustrate the absence of a black and white answer?

    *I'm sure he will also explain it in terms of his grayscale :D
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Would you explain the difference among "force", "comple" and "onlige" using the following sentences?

    a. Thousands were forced to sleep on the street.
    b. Thousands were compelled to sleep on the street.
    c. Thousands were obliged to sleep on the street.

    I would like to clarify the difference as much as possible.
    Thank you for your cooperation.
     

    jipol

    New Member
    Russian
    Would you explain the difference among "force", "comple" and "onlige" using the following sentences?

    a. Thousands were forced to sleep on the street.
    b. Thousands were compelled to sleep on the street.
    c. Thousands were obliged to sleep on the street.

    I would like to clarify the difference as much as possible.
    Thank you for your cooperation.
    If I'm wrong then natives will correct me, but based on my experience I think that:
    - “Forced to” is being used when the situation was caused by either unanimated subject (i.e. “The bad weather forced Japan to close all airports”) or when someone literally have used force (i.e. “Thug forced me to give him my wallet”).

    - “Compel” have more general usage. It has close meanings to “forced to”, but usually it means less pressure on the subject. So in case of “a teacher have compelled his students to behave” I would think that he just used his authority, but if “a teacher have forced his students to behave” then I'd suppose that he birched (punished) them. “She was compelled to resign” vs. “she was forced to resign” would mean for me that the second situation was much more against her will than the former.

    - With regards to “oblige” I fully agree with JulianStuart’s explanation above (see post #15).
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    With something like sleeping on the streets I would find the distinction harder to make, there is no obvious third-party involvement. If we had a real context it might be more obvious, but with the concept of sleeping in streets I would probably use forced, just because it is hard to imagine it being anything optional in this situation.
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Does the semantic distinction between the verbs apply to sentences with inanimate nouns?
    Is there any difference in the sentences below?

    1.Poverty forced her to quit school.
    2.Poverty compelled her to quit school.
    3.Poverty obliged her to quit school.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    If you would write down what exactly you mean by the "semantic distinction" as you have learnt it, we can perhaps answer the question. In the case of these sentences, they all carry the meaning of "Because she was too poor, she had to leave school".
     
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