What's the difference between those two words?

But the Marshall Islands holds an important card: Under a 1986 compact, the roughly 70,000 residents of the Marshalls

The debate over loss and damage has been intense because the final language of the Paris accord could require developed countries

I think accord is more informal, while compact is specific to America. Both of the quotes come from here

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    There isn't a clear distinction between the two terms at the level of dictionary definitions, but feasibly certain administrative/political contexts might consistently use them differently. At the level of nuance, a compact (as a figurative extension from the base sense closely put together, joined) alludes more to an unbreakable bond or promise, whereas accord carries stronger allusions to the signatories being in agreement, harmony, of like mind. – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '16 at 15:13
  • I've never seen a lady powder her nose using an accord. (Though I have seen someone drive a Plymouth compact.) – Hot Licks Jan 16 '16 at 18:46
  • (About the only use of "compact" in your sense that most Americans are familiar with is the Mayflower Compact.) – Hot Licks Jan 16 '16 at 18:47

Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms, first edition (1942) calls accord (in the sense of "agreement") and compact (in the sense of "contract") "analogous" words, but it discusses them in two separate clusters of related terms.

Accord appears with agreement and understanding in a cluster headed by agreement. Here are the relevant comments about accord:

Agreement, accord, understanding are here compared in their political and legal senses. They agree in designating a settlement reached by parties to a dispute or engaged in negotiations. All these terms imply concurrence as to what should be done or not done; all imply reconciliation of differences. ... An accord is, in controversies between governments, an informal agreement; use of this term often implies that all details have not yet been settled or that the terms of the agreement are not yet ready for publication, but that the conditions necessary to a final agreement have been fulfilled. In law, an accord is an agreement between the parties concerned in a case where satisfaction for an injury is demanded. The execution of such an accord bars further litigation.

Compact, meanwhile appears in a much larger cluster with contract, bargain, pact, treaty, entente, convention, cartel, covenant, concordat, indenture, and mise, under the general heading contract:

Contract, bargain, compact, pact, treaty, entente, convention, cartel, covenant, concordat, indenture, mise designate an agreement reached after negotiation and ending in an exchange of promises between the parties concerned. ... A compact is an earnest or solemn exchange of promises, sometimes between state or political groups and often between persons.A compact may be unwritten or undocumented, the only assurance of its execution being the trust which each party places in the word of honor of the other or others. The word is used when a keen sense of the obligation which it imposes is assumed of each of the parties. [Examples omitted.]

Black's Law Dictionary (1968) takes a broader yet more formal view of the meaning of compact than Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms does:

COMPACT, n. An agreement; a contract. [U.S. court case citation omitted.] Usually applied to conventions between nations or sovereign states. [Definitions from hornbooks and case law:] A contract between parties, which creates obligations and rights capable of being enforced, and contemplated as such between the parties, in their distinct and independent characters. [Source citation omitted.] A mutual consent of parties concerned respecting some property or right that is the object of the stipulation, or something that is to be done or forborne. [Source citation omitted.]

On the other hand, Black's acknowledges only the "resolution of an injury" meaning of accord (the meaning that Webster's discusses in the final two sentences of its commentary on accord):

ACCORD, n. A satisfaction agreed upon between the party injuring and the party injured which, when performed, is a bar to all actions upon this account. [Citations omitted.] An agreement to accept, in extinction of an obligation, something different from or less than that to which the person agreeing to accept is entitled. [Citations omitted.]

The most significant difference in meaning between accord and compact as applied to international agreements seems to be that an accord is in some sense preliminary to the final agreement binding the parties; it is an affirmation that, in principle, the governments engaged in negotiation have reached broad agreement on the resolution of the issues before them, but that at least some details remain to be hammered out. A compact, on the other hand, is an exchange of specific agreed-upon commitments more clearly in the nature of a binding contract at international law.


The two words are similar enough to be treated as synonyms, but there is a difference.

An accord is a statement of agreement, possibly settling an old disagreement. It could be an agreement on the boundaries of a certain territory.

Vocabulary.com says: "a legal document summarizing the agreement between parties"

A compact is an agreement that normally includes promises by the parties to perform in certain ways under certain circumstances. It could be an agreement that nation X will protect nation Y if nation Z attacks.

Vocabulary.com says: "a signed written agreement between two or more parties (nations) to perform some action"

Accords are reached, compacts are formed.


Compact is synonymous with Contract, both having their origin in the verb form.

The difference between contract and accord, in legal terms, is that a contract describes a legal agreement regarding the exchange of services or goods and an accord is typically void of goods and services (notwithstanding accords whereby land is offered as part of the accord)

  • Please try to give a source for your answer. This site strives to provide objective answers. Find out about good answers in the Help Center. – Helmar Jul 26 '16 at 14:31

Accord is defined as

To cause to conform or agree; bring into harmony

in The Free Dictionary (accord)

Compact is defined as

An agreement or a covenant.

in The Free Dictionary (compact)

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