What is the difference in meaning between repress and quell?

Are they interchangeable?

  • Not in most cases. May 31, 2014 at 23:14
  • 3
    Inadequate background research effort.
    – Kris
    Jun 1, 2014 at 6:20
  • @Kris Their definitions seem extremely similar: put an end to (a rebellion or other disorder), typically by the use of force. / subdue (someone or something) by force. Jun 1, 2014 at 18:55

2 Answers 2


I would say that repress has more negative connotations than quell. One might "brutally repress an uprising", for example: it suggests that force (or similar severe methods) are used. "Quell" is more suggestive of gentle reassurance or reasoned argument: "the priest quelled their fears".

Linked to that, there's an implication that something "repressed" doesn't really go away; it's just no longer in the open. "Quell" suggests that issues have been smoothed over.

  • Good points, but there is an area of overlap (ie the words are synonyms). May 31, 2014 at 23:11
  • @EdwinAshworth Indeed.
    – avid
    May 31, 2014 at 23:12
  • 1
    Interesting reversal because the etymology is just the opposite.
    – Third News
    May 31, 2014 at 23:30

Repress: "to check, restrain," ... "hold back, curb," figuratively "check, confine, restrain, refrain," ...- "back" (see re-) + premere "to push" A terms later associated with psychological repression, and arresting a rebellion -http://www.etymonline.com/

Whereas, quell was from the get go "to kill, murder, execute".

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