Definition of compass in English:



  • 1An instrument containing a magnetized pointer that shows the direction of magnetic north and bearings from it.

    • ‘Through binoculars they're visible at all points of the compass; gawky, fragile, birdlike skeletons of metal hauling skywards monstrous slabs of concrete and steel.’
    • ‘During the Cold War, nuclear danger grew to threaten all points of the compass.’
    • ‘South is the least trustworthy direction on a compass.’
    • ‘Then, using an electronic compass and ultrasonic sensors, it cuts the area about 10 times, ensuring a minimum of missed patches.’
    • ‘You look around at the highest peaks of the Rockies, and you're at the water epicenter of North America, where the glaciers and rivers flow to all points of the compass.’
    • ‘Yet there are more than two directions on a compass.’
    • ‘A magnetometer is a device that, like the magnet of a compass, reacts to changes in the earth's magnetic field.’
    • ‘This finding strengthened the idea that pigeons unable to see the sun rely on the earth's magnetic field as a compass.’
    • ‘Often we look to the church as a moral compass for direction.’
    • ‘Sailors have been comparing their compasses, which show magnetic north, to the sun and stars, which show true north, for many centuries and noting the results in logs stretching back to the year 1590.’
    • ‘While sipping hot tea, I tweak my compass declination and draw bearing lines on our map.’
    • ‘Before long, my sense of bush direction usurped the compass.’
    • ‘Point the binos in any direction and a digital compass takes a bearing.’
    • ‘American roads also frustrated the traveller seeking to move diagonally rather than according to the four cardinal points of the compass.’
    • ‘As a result of globalisation, many states appear to have mislaid their maps, compasses and direction-finding instruments, even the will to set a course.’
    • ‘Letters continued to stream in from all points of the compass - 538 of them in a single day, with the temperature steadily mounting.’
    • ‘If we were born with magnetic detectors, the compass would never have been invented, because we wouldn't need one.’
    • ‘It got me puzzling about the points of the compass.’
    • ‘These are works of dry stone masonry meticulously assembled, some aligned directly with points of the compass.’
    • ‘This is easily determined by holding a compass near the magnet to determine if the strength of the magnet overrides the magnetic force of the poles.’
  • 2An instrument for drawing circles and arcs and measuring distances between points, consisting of two arms linked by a movable joint, one arm ending in a point and the other usually carrying a pencil or pen.

    • ‘In fact, the Golden Section is likely to turn up fairly frequently in any design derived from the square and developed by applying a pair of compasses.’
    • ‘She cleared her pens into a neon pink pencil case and put her compass carefully back in her box of mathematical tools.’
    • ‘Gauss had stated that the problems of duplicating a cube and trisecting an angle could not be solved with ruler and compasses but he gave no proofs.’
    • ‘Roughly, one measures everything with a ruler and compass and sets things up according to strict astrological correspondences.’
    • ‘Postulate she puts those on with a pair of compasses.’
    • ‘We had some sturdy white board behind a cabinet, so I brought that out for him, along with a compass, yardstick, pencil, glue, and Exacto knife.’
    • ‘In the first plate of Europe, Urizen is portrayed majestically as an aged, Newtonian figure leaning down from the sun with a great pair of compasses to create the world.’
    • ‘The men lever the women into the air or slide them on pointe across the stage, their legs as rigid as a pair of compasses.’
    • ‘It is wonderfully satisfying to make these pictures by hand, patiently, with pencil and paper, compass and straightedge.’
    • ‘A major step forward in proving that the circle could not be squared using ruler and compasses occurred in 1761 when Lambert proved that p was irrational.’
    • ‘Using a compass to create hundreds of circles in delicate works on paper, Hesse carried Minimalist repetition and seriality to the point of obsession.’
    • ‘Some secondary admissions policies are geographically based literally a map and a pair of compasses; others put loyalty to local feeder schools first.’
    • ‘Underneath is a cloaked and bearded figure on all fours with a pair of compasses in one hand.’
    • ‘She extended the callipers like a pair of compasses preparing to plot the landmarks on his face.’
    • ‘We can do this using compasses for drawing circles and a set-square for drawing lines at right-angles to other lines, and we don't need a ruler at all for measuring lengths!’
    • ‘Some came armed with T-scales, drawing boards, protractors and compasses.’
    • ‘Discover that despite the aid of pairs of compasses, scissors and anything else you consider useful, the most you can get in before it breaks is about 1 cm.’
    • ‘Set the points of a pencil compass to the width of the widest gap between the counter top and the wall.’
    • ‘In 1563, at the age of 17, Tycho observed a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn using a simple pair of compasses held close to his eye to measure the angle between the two planets on successive nights as the conjunction approached.’
    • ‘A pair of compasses was adjusted to roughly the right size radius.’
  • 3[in singular] The range or scope of something.

    ‘the event had political repercussions that are beyond the compass of this book’
    • ‘Within the compass of these measurements, every outcome is inevitable.’
    • ‘Within the compass of faith the whole of life - indeed the whole of the universe - is embraced.’
    • ‘As philosophers or historians we treat the datum as something impersonal to be brought within the compass of our own world of thought.’
    • ‘Complete achievement of these objectives within the compass of one individual lifetime is never possible, of course, but that is not the point.’
    • ‘Sometimes the facts of a case may fall within the compass of both constructive and gross negligence manslaughter so that a verdict of manslaughter may be available on either of those grounds.’
    • ‘Did such matters fall within the compass of judicial review at all?’
    • ‘We even relocate daybreak and sunset, which, one might surmise, are logical ways to determine the beginning and end of a given day, within the compass of clock-time.’
    • ‘Extending the photograph beyond the compass of the glance into a continuum, he presents more information than a single frame could be expected to contain.’
    • ‘Can 2,000 years of church history be recorded within the compass of 200 pages?’
    • ‘Yet the moral of the book may be expressed within the compass of a single phrase - too much intelligence, and not enough brains.’
    • ‘The matter is totally within the compass of the jury's jurisdiction to determine.’
    • ‘The car stopped further back on North Terrace, probably not within the compass of the map, but at best somewhere towards that very far left-hand side of the map.’
    • ‘It is, almost, within the compass of our understanding.’
    • ‘No. 1 presents to us a good specimen of a general servant, one who will do anything within the compass of her capacities.’
    • ‘By ‘science’ he means ‘all that can fall within the compass of human understanding’.’
    • ‘The needs and expectations of the enquiring traveller change rapidly and it would be impossible to meet them all within the compass of single volumes.’
    • ‘The question is whether that school falls within the compass of this particular legislation.’
    • ‘All of this, he believed, falls within the compass of science.’
    • ‘She was high in her praise of the level of organisation of last year's training sessions and suggests that reaching the decider this year is well within the compass of the minors.’
    • ‘To absorb 5,000 years of a country's rich cultural past within the compass of seven days, was like delving into a honeypot and emerging in a daze.’
    scope, range, extent, reach, span, breadth, width, orbit, ambit, stretch, limits, confines, parameters, extremities, bounds, boundary
    area, field, sphere, zone, domain
    View synonyms
    1. 3.1The enclosing limits of an area.
      ‘this region had within its compass many types of agriculture’
      • ‘Within the relatively narrow compass of Northumberland and Durham - as it must seem to us today - it might even be said that he was a great one.’
      boundary, border, boundary line, bound, bounding line, partition line, frontier, edge, demarcation line, end point, cut-off point, termination
      View synonyms
    2. 3.2The range of notes that can be produced by a voice or a musical instrument.
      ‘the cellos were playing in a rather somber part of their compass’
      • ‘As a musical instrument the singing voice has wide tonal compass and uniquely variable pitch, intensity, and stress.’
      • ‘The modern concert harp has 46 or 47 strings and a compass of six and a half octaves.’


[WITH OBJECT]archaic
  • 1Go around (something) in a circular course.

    ‘the ship wherein Magellan compassed the world’
    • ‘A Brisbane City Council radiovan has just compassed the streets announcing that the water will soon be cut off, period of outage unknown.’
    • ‘One of the Troopers made a patrol, compassing the property about twice an hour, while the other two were to stay in the house.’
    • ‘Raven continued turning the crank and the machine clicked and whirred as all the planets compassed about the sun on their courses.’
    1. 1.1Surround or enclose on all sides.
      ‘they were compassed with numerous fierce and cruel tribes’
      surround, enclose, ring, encircle, circumscribe, skirt, bound, border, fringe
      View synonyms
  • 2Contrive to accomplish (something)

    ‘he compassed his end only by the exercise of violence’
    • ‘Edward III defined treason as imagining and compassing the death of the king; such imagining had to be accompanied by ‘overt acts’ to qualify as treasonous.’
    manage, find a way, engineer a way, arrange
    View synonyms


Middle English: from Old French compas (noun), compasser (verb), based on Latin com- together + passus a step or pace Several senses ( measure artifice circumscribed area and pair of compasses) that appeared in Middle English are also found in Old French, but their development and origin are uncertain. The transference of sense to the magnetic compass is held to have occurred in the related Italian word compasso, from the circular shape of the compass box.