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Adhere vs. Comply: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 16, 2023
Adhere refers to stick to something or follow closely (as in principles or rules). Comply refers to act in accordance with a wish, command, or rule.

Key Differences

Adhere typically means to stick firmly to a surface or to be devotedly loyal to a set of rules, beliefs, or principles. It often implies a sense of attachment or dedication. Comply, on the other hand, suggests a response or obedience to a specific request, command, or regulation, often from a position of subordination or necessity.
When one adheres to a policy or principle, it usually involves a choice or commitment to follow that guideline closely. It suggests a deeper, sometimes personal, alignment with the set of rules or beliefs. In contrast, to comply with a rule or command often comes from an external requirement or pressure, without necessarily implying personal agreement or commitment.
Adhere can also carry a metaphorical meaning of being loyal or faithful to a cause, concept, or group. It is about maintaining a consistent support or allegiance. Comply, however, is more about conforming to a specific demand, order, or set of instructions, often with an implication of doing so to avoid negative consequences.
In terms of usage, adhere tends to be used in contexts where the focus is on the quality of the attachment or loyalty. Comply is more commonly used in legal, regulatory, or hierarchical contexts, where there is an expectation or requirement to follow certain rules or orders.
Adhere suggests a voluntary and often proactive commitment, whereas comply implies a reactive or obligatory action in response to a specific requirement or directive. The choice between the two depends on the nature of the commitment or obedience being described.

Comparison Chart


To stick firmly to or follow closely
To act in accordance with a command


Loyalty, commitment, attachment
Obedience, conformity, response


Beliefs, principles, surfaces
Rules, commands, regulations

Nature of Action

Often voluntary, proactive
Often obligatory, reactive


Symbolic, emotional attachment
Legal, regulatory, hierarchical obedience

Adhere and Comply Definitions


To follow or uphold a set of rules or principles closely.
She chose to adhere to her family's traditions.


To act according to a command or request.
The employees must comply with the new regulations.


To stick firmly to a surface.
The label must adhere to the package securely.


To obey a rule or an order.
She complied with the court's decision.


To be devoted or loyal to a belief or cause.
They adhere to the principles of non-violence.


To yield to a wish or command.
The students complied with the teacher's instructions.


To remain attached or committed to something.
He continues to adhere to his strict diet.


To meet specified standards.
The product was designed to comply with safety norms.


To closely follow a particular practice.
The craftsmen adhere to traditional methods.


To conform to a requirement.
To avoid fines, they had to comply with environmental regulations.


To stick fast to something; stay attached
Glue makes the wallpaper adhere to the wall.


To act in accordance with another's command, request, rule, or wish
The patient complied with the physician's orders.


To remain devoted to or be in support of something
Adhered to her beliefs.


(Obsolete) To be courteous or obedient.


To carry out a plan, scheme, or operation without deviation
We will adhere to our plan.


To yield assent; to accord; to acquiesce, agree, consent; to adapt oneself, to conform.


To cause to adhere; make stick.


(archaic) To accomplish, to fulfil.


(archaic) To be ceremoniously courteous; to make one's compliments.


(archaic) To enfold; to embrace.


To yield assent; to accord; agree, or acquiesce; to adapt one's self; to consent or conform; - usually followed by with.
Yet this be sure, in nothing to comply,Scandalous or forbidden in our law.
They did servilely comply with the people in worshiping God by sensible images.
He that complies against his willIs of his own opinion still.


To be ceremoniously courteous; to make one's compliments.


To fulfill; to accomplish.


To infold; to embrace.
Seemed to comply,Cloudlike, the daintie deitie.


Act in accordance with someone's rules, commands, or wishes;
He complied with my instructions
You must comply or else!
Follow these simple rules
Abide by the rules


Can adhere be used in a physical sense?

Yes, like a sticker adhering to a surface.

Is adhering similar to agreeing?

Not exactly; it's more about consistently following or upholding something.

Can someone refuse to comply?

Yes, but it may have negative consequences.

What does it mean to adhere to a tradition?

To faithfully follow and uphold that tradition.

What does adhere mean?

To stick to something or follow a set of rules or principles closely.

What does comply mean?

To act in accordance with a rule, command, or request.

Can you adhere to a philosophy?

Yes, it means to closely follow its principles.

Can a company comply with guidelines?

Yes, particularly legal or industry standards.

Is complying always mandatory?

Often, especially in legal or regulatory contexts.

Does adhere imply a personal choice?

Generally, it suggests a voluntary commitment or belief.

What's an example of complying with a policy?

Employees following a company’s safety policy.

Is it possible to adhere to a diet?

Yes, meaning to follow the diet’s guidelines strictly.

How does one adhere to a code of conduct?

By consistently following its guidelines.

Can compliance be voluntary?

It can be, but it’s often due to external requirements.

What happens if you don’t comply with laws?

It can lead to legal penalties or repercussions.

Does comply suggest a lack of choice?

It can, especially if it's in response to an authoritative directive.

Does adhere involve actions or beliefs?

It can involve both, depending on the context.

Is it common to comply with requests in a workplace?

Yes, especially if they align with workplace rules or expectations.

Can adhere have an emotional aspect?

Yes, it often involves emotional loyalty or commitment.

Is comply used in formal settings?

Yes, particularly in legal, official, or corporate contexts.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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