Our word “coerce” has been around since the 1600s. It has Latin roots that literally mean “to confine: to enclose together.” Because the Latin coercere took a detour through French on its way to English, the meaning changed a little bit.
In English, today, to coerce someone is to use your own power or authority to force that person to do something.
Part of speech:
verb, the transitive kind: “They coerced him into signing the contract;” “She didn’t want to join the game, but they coerced her.”
Other common forms:
coerced, coercing, coercion, coercive, coercively, coercible.
how to use it:
This word is usually harsh, serious, and formal.
But you can use it for humor and exaggeration, too: “A second brownie? Sure, you’ve coerced me.”
Coercion is always harsh and pushy, but it’s not physical. “Eat this brownie, or else” is coercion. Pushing brownies into someone’s mouth isn’t; that’s physical force. However, if you’re joking around and exaggerating, you can use the word “coerce” to describe physical manipulation–see the example below from Scientific American.
In general, you talk about people coercing other people, often into doing things. “They coerced us into lying.” “He coerced the witness into staying silent.”
It’s less common, but instead of saying “coerce them into doing it,” you can say “coerce them to do it,” as in “They coerced us to lie.”
You can also talk about people coercing others into states of being: “They coerced us into dishonesty.” “He coerced the witness into silence.”
So far we’ve seen that people get coerced to lie, to stay silent, and to take a second helping of dessert. You might also talk about people getting coerced to steal, to plead guilty, to buy something they don’t need, to protect a dangerous secret, to retract their earlier accounts or accusations, or to watch both Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! in one sitting.*
*Actually, it was love, not coercion, that made me do that.
“The students were coerced into selling drugs or stealing in exchange for housing.”
— Jude Joffe-Block, The Guardian, 27 April 2020
“Klein has extended a mechanical arm from Deep Rover and is attempting to grab some of what looks like carbonate rocks on the seafloor. Operating a mechanical arm is difficult, and the work is slow going… We munch on chips and cheer when Klein manages to coerce a rock into the sample bucket; and we boo when samples slip through the mechanical fingers and are swallowed by the blackness below.”
— James Nestor, Scientific American, 12 February 2018