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Compliment vs. Flattery: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on September 30, 2023
Compliment refers to a genuine expression of praise or admiration, while flattery is often insincere praise given to gain favor or advantage. Compliments are generally heartfelt, whereas flattery may have ulterior motives.

Key Differences

Compliment and flattery, both nouns, are terms that pertain to the act of praising or admiring someone. However, there are nuanced differences that set them apart. A compliment is a polite expression that sincerely highlights someone's ability, achievement, or favorable quality. Flattery, on the other hand, may also involve praise but is often insincere and driven by an ulterior motive such as gaining favor or manipulating someone.
Grammatically speaking, both "compliment" and "flattery" function primarily as nouns but can also be used as verbs when describing the act of giving praise. To "compliment" someone means to offer genuine praise, while to "flatter" suggests the act may not be completely sincere. For example, you compliment someone's skills because you truly appreciate them; you flatter someone to get something in return.
Contextually, compliments are usually straightforward and given without expectation of anything in return. They are often spontaneous reactions to something admirable. Flattery, conversely, is often more calculated and may be employed strategically to gain some sort of benefit, whether it's favor, influence, or material gain.
Culturally, the perception of what constitutes a compliment or flattery can vary. In some cultures, straightforward compliments are highly valued, while in others, subtlety might be preferred. Similarly, flattery, even if a bit exaggerated, may be considered socially acceptable in some cultures, while being looked down upon in others as deceitful or manipulative.

Comparison Chart


Generally sincere
Often insincere


No ulterior motive
May have ulterior motive

Grammatical Role

Mainly a noun, can be a verb
Mainly a noun, can be a verb

Contextual Use

Spontaneous, no strings attached
Calculated, possibly strategic

Cultural Interpretation

Varies, but generally positive
Varies, may be seen as manipulative

Compliment and Flattery Definitions


A polite expression of admiration.
He received a compliment on his excellent presentation.


Inauthentic or exaggerated praise.
He saw through the flattery and declined the offer.


A gift or gesture as a token of appreciation.
She sent a bouquet as a compliment to the host.


Compliment given to gain favor.
Her flattery was aimed at getting a promotion.


Courteous recognition.
His work received many compliments from the industry.


Insincere commendation.
The candidate relied on flattery to win votes.


An expression of praise, admiration, or congratulation.


The act or practice of flattering.


A formal act of civility, courtesy, or respect.


Excessive or insincere praise.


Compliments Good wishes; regards
Extend my compliments to your parents. See Usage Note at complement.


(uncountable) Excessive praise or approval, which is often insincere and sometimes contrived to win favour.


To pay a compliment to.


(countable) An instance of excessive praise.


To show fondness, regard, or respect for by giving a gift or performing a favor.


The act or practice of flattering; the act of pleasing by artful commendation or compliments; adulation; false, insincere, or excessive praise.
Just praise is only a debt, but flattery is a present.
Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.


An expression of praise, congratulation, or respect.
Pay someone a compliment


Excessive or insincere praise


(uncountable) Complimentary language; courtesy, flattery.


Manipulative charm.
His flattery could make anyone do his bidding.


Misspelling of complement


Praise with deceitful intentions.
She was cautious of the flattery coming from a rival.


(ambitransitive) To pay a compliment (to someone); to express a favourable opinion (of someone).


Misspelling of complement


An expression, by word or act, of approbation, regard, confidence, civility, or admiration; a flattering speech or attention; a ceremonious greeting; as, to send one's compliments to a friend.
Tedious waste of time, to sit and hearSo many hollow compliments and lies.
Many a compliment politely penned.


To praise, flatter, or gratify, by expressions of approbation, respect, or congratulation; to make or pay a compliment to.
Monarchs should their inward soul disguise; . . . Should compliment their foes and shun their friends.


To pass compliments; to use conventional expressions of respect.
I make the interlocutors, upon occasion, compliment with one another.


A remark (or act) expressing praise and admiration


Say something to someone that expresses praise;
He complimented her on her last physics paper


Express respect or esteem for


Sincere praise or commendation.
Your compliment made my day better.


A flattering remark.
She blushed at the compliment on her appearance.


Can Flattery be a verb?

Yes, "to flatter" means to give praise, often insincerely, for personal gain.

How do Compliment and Flattery differ?

Compliments are generally sincere, while flattery often has ulterior motives.

What is Flattery?

Flattery is often insincere praise given to gain favor or advantage.

Is Compliment always positive?

Generally yes, as it aims to express admiration or approval.

Is Flattery always dishonest?

Not necessarily, but it often carries a connotation of insincerity.

How should one respond to Flattery?

Caution and skepticism are advised when responding to flattery.

What is a Compliment?

A compliment is a sincere expression of praise or admiration.

Can Compliment be a verb?

Yes, "to compliment" means to offer genuine praise.

Is Flattery always negative?

Not always, but it is often viewed skeptically due to potential ulterior motives.

Can Flattery ever be a form of Compliment?

While both involve praise, flattery can be a form of compliment if it is sincere, though this is rare.

Can Compliments be harmful?

Generally no, unless they are false and intended to deceive.

How can one spot insincere Flattery?

Look for exaggeration or praise that aims to gain something in return.

Are Compliments culturally universal?

While the act of complimenting exists universally, how it's expressed can vary by culture.

How should one respond to a Compliment?

A simple "thank you" is generally an appropriate response.

Is Flattery more prevalent in certain professions?

Yes, in professions that involve persuasion like sales or politics, flattery is more common.
About Author
Written 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.
Edited 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.

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