The word ‘complete’ and ‘finish’ are so close in their meaning that in some contexts it is not wrong to use them interchangeably. In fact, even the Oxford dictionary lists them as synonyms for each other. Yet, there is a subtle difference in their connotations that makes one more suitable than the other in many contexts.
According to the dictionary, ‘complete’ as an adjective means ‘having all its parts, not partial, all-inclusive, whole, entire, thorough, comprehensive, or finished’, and as a verb it means ‘to make complete, to fill in (e.g., a form), or to finish’. ‘Finish’ is the opposite of ‘start’. As a verb it means ‘to bring or come to an end or conclusion, to destroy or kill, to consume or use up all of something, or to complete’, and as a noun it means ‘the end, the final stage or point, or the final state or form’.
One may notice that both ‘complete and ‘finish’ appear as synonyms in their meanings. The question is then what is the difference in their usage? Can one be replaced by another in all contexts? The answer is: no; only sometimes is it okay to do so. Here is some more dope on the difference between ‘complete’ and ‘finish’.
When you finish a task in its entirety, you complete the task. When you are done with your share of a task, as in a project that requires teamwork, you finish it. Similarly, you finish your day’s work even though it may take one more week to complete it. You may also finish working on a project by leaving it incomplete if you realize midway that the project is not viable. You may finish reading a book without completing it because it has failed to keep you interested.
In the context of industrial applications, once all the processes in the manufacture of a product are ‘complete’ in all aspects, you get a ‘finished’ product – not a complete product. In the same context, the noun ‘finish’ can also mean ‘the final look or texture’ of a ‘finished’ product, for example, ‘metallic finish’, ‘glossy finish’, etc.
Here are some illustrative examples:
- I have read the complete book, right from the Preface to the last page.
- I have finished reading the book.
- Have you finished (or completed) your homework?
- Use a blue pen to complete ((not finish) this insurance form.
- Before taking up modeling assignments, she went to a finishing school. (a school where they polish up your personality)
- The professor finished (not completed) his lecture on a humorous note.
- The movie finished (not completed) with a surprising twist.
- I couldn’t complete (not finish) answering the question paper as it was too long.
- The African runner hit the finish in record time.
- She finished (not completed) the entire box of chocolates in no time.
- You started this fight and I am going to finish (not complete) it.
- Have patience, I have not finished my sermon yet.
That ‘finishes’ and ‘completes’ this article on the difference between ‘complete’ and ‘finish’.