Compliments are expressions of positive evaluation that commonly occur in everyday conversational encounters among interlocutors of equal or higher status. A compliment may be used to open a conversation or to smooth conversational interaction by reinforcing the links of solidarity between the interlocutors. People often compliment qualities related to personal appearance (e.g., clothes, hair), possessions, skill, or accomplishments.
With regard to cultural differences, Spanish-speaking men (mainly Mexican) rarely compliment one another on appearance, whereas American men do but less often than American females.Cross cultural differences of compliment responses have also been of interest to speech act researchers as some cultures prefer to either avoid self praise or agree with the complimenter.


With respect to its structure, a compliment is typically directed toward:
1) The interlocutor's physical appearance
2) Their capabilities or skills
3) Their achievements
4) Their possessions

In a compliment response, a speaker can choose to either accept, reject, or evade the compliment according to whether their culture prefers to agree with the complimenter or to avoid self praise.

Complimenting in English

In varieties of English such as American (Wolfson, 1988; Manes & Wolfson, 1981, 1983) and New Zealand (Holmes & Brown, 1987), research has shown that compliments are formulaic in terms of both their meaning and forms used to compliment other people. For example, with regard to their meaning, compliments are mainly realized by means of adjectives and verbs. In American English, the majority (approximately two thirds) are compliments realized by means of five adjectives: nice, good, beautiful, pretty, and great. And the majority are realized through the combination of two verbs (approximately 90%) such as like and love.

With respect to their form, almost 80% of the compliments are realized in three patterns given and received by middle-class speakers of American English; of these, the first one seems to be the most common structure chosen by U.S. Americans:
  1. Your hair looks nice --> Noun Phrase + is/looks/ (really) Adjective
  2. I like your car --> I (really) like/love + Noun Phrase
  3. That's a nice tie --> (PRO (really) (a) Adjective + Noun Phrase
With regard to gender differences, females tend to give and receive more compliments to and from other females and males, while males tend to give more compliments to women (overall appearance) and, to a lesser degree, to other males.

Complimenting in Spanish

Compliments in Spanish are also mainly realized by formulas by means of a restricted selection of adjectives and verbs (Lorenzo-Dus 2001; Nelson and Hall 1999; Yañez 1990). Compliments in Spanish are often related to appearance, skill/work, and personality traits.

The most frequent adjectives used to compliment in Spanish are:
'bueno/a', 'bonito/a', 'rico/a', 'padre' (México)
'guapo/a', 'lindo/a', 'rico', 'inteligente'.

The most frequent structures for compliments in Spanish include:
  1. ¡Qué guapa! --> Qué + Adjective
  2. ¡Qué bonito carro! --> Qué + Adjective + Noun Phrase
  3. ¡Qué bonito se te ve el pelo! --> Qué + Adjective + Verb + Noun Phrase
  4. ¡Tienes unos ojos muy bonitos! --> Verb + Noun Phrase + (Adverb) Adjective
  5. ¡Esta sopa te salió rica! --> Noun Phrase + Verb + Adjective
  6. ¡Tu trabajo estuvo muy bien --> Noun Phrase + Verb + Adverb
With regard to gender differences in Spanish, females give more compliments to other women and less to men. According to previous research (Nelson and Hall 1999), Mexicans seem to produce more compliments on appearance and personality traits than do Americans. On the other hand, Americans are more likely to praise aspects of personal appearance that have been enhanced, as well as accomplishments and possessions (Wolfson 1989).

Fishing for compliments in Spanish

In some regions of the Spanish-speaking world (e.g., Mexico , Spain , Venezuela ) it is common to 'fish for compliments' making the possession being praised downgraded in search for additional compliments. For example, in analysis of compliment responses in Peninsular Spanish it was found that requesting a repetition or an expansion of the compliment was a common strategy used among Spaniards (Lorenzo-Dus, 2001). A similar behavior of compliment responses is observed among Mexican speakers ( Chihuahua, Mexico ) (Valdés & Pino, 1981) who also like to 'fish for compliments' as a way to express affiliation with the interlocutor and to strengthen the links of solidarity.

Compliment reponses from speakers in Spain (from Lorenzo-Dus, 2001: 119)

  • ¿Lo dices en serio? ¿No es demasiado corto? ('Are you sure? Isn't it too short?')
  • ¿De verdad? Yo pensaba que no le gustaría a nadie ('Really?, I didn't think anyone would like it')
  • ¿Tú crees? ¿De verdad? ('Do you think so? Really?')
Compliment responses from speakers in Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico (Valdés & Pino, 1981: 59)
A: Qué boni::tos tus zapatos.
B: Gracias, muy a la orden.
A: Qué bonito tu hermanito.
B: Gracias, favor que le haces.
A: Quiero felicitarlos por el buen servicio que tienen ustedes aquí y especialmenteusted
que es tan rápida y tan amable
B: Muchas gracias señora, ya sabe que estoy para servirla.

Overall, when complimenting someone's cooking (e.g., 'la pasta está deliciosa!' the pasta is delicious ) or a car ('es una joyita!' it's a jewel!), the person receiving the praise may respond may avoid self-praise '¿de veras?' ( really? ) or '¿no tanto?' ( it's not much ), which is followed by further compliments on the part of the interlocutor and it serves to extend the interactional sequence (Listen to a compliment between two Mexican students). Thus, complimenting represents one means of reinforcing the links of solidarity and affiliation between interlocutors and a way of smoothing conversation.

Listen to Examples of Compliment Interactions in Spanish & English