I thought these two words mean the same thing, until I read the following sentence: "Comprehensive, complete and mature C++ frameworks that save lots of work and help bringing the product to market sooner".

I am confused by the two bold words above.

complete: With all parts included; with nothing missing; full.

comprehensive: Broadly or completely covering.

With the above explanation, I still can not understand the difference between them, can they replace each other?

Can "The list may not be complete." be replaced with "The list may not comprehensive." ?


The two adjectives are different in meanings. Comprehensive means:

Including or dealing with all or nearly all elements or aspects of something: a comprehensive list of sources

It leaves a room for something missing, not much though. For example, when you talk about insurance, you use comprehensive to mean it can cover almost all you need, but not completely 100%.

On the other hand, complete means it has necessary or appropriate parts 100% without anything missing. If you have a complete set of dishes, there should not be one dish missing in the set.

They might sound synonymous, but they aren't.

[Oxford Online Dictionary]


Specifically in the context you have mentioned, comprehensive and complete stand for different qualities of the C++ framework.

Comprehensive connotes the quality of covering all possible uses/conditions/inputs that the framework might be used for.

The quality of being complete however, seems to be connoting something slightly different. While the framework might cover all possible potential uses, it might not be written to it's logical end from all possible angles. E.g the code might be covering certain areas, but the lines might only be partially written so as to perform some functions but not all possible ones.

In general, including for the 'list' example you have given, the usage of comprehensive vs. complete seems to be about breadth versus depth, from what I surmise. A comprehensive list of animals might be one that covers a little bit of all existing classes i.e mammals, reptiles, birds etc. On the other hand, a complete list of animals would have the name of each and every individual creature in existence classified as an 'animal' within it.

Hope this answer was helpful in some way.

  • Yes, this is the difference: breadth vs depth, and it is not specific to C++ or programming. There are degrees of comprehensiveness and completeness, of course. – Drew Mar 5 '16 at 22:55

This has confused me as well and I've thought of it this way:

You can have a complete set of tools, so not one piece is missing. A different set of tools could be comprehensive if it includes more tools to fulfil a broader set of needs and uses. The meanings are similar but refer to a slightly different attribute about the set of tools.

A tool set can be considered both comprehensive and complete. I suppose you could have a tool set that is comprehensive but not complete if a tool is missing.

Unless you mean "complete" in terms of the breadth of uses what the tool set can perform. In that case there would be overlap in the two terms. But then, I think the two terms are quite similar in that way that their usage does overlap.


Those two terms are largely synonymous, but you can find nuance in them.

  • Comprehensive refers to the scope. ("breadth")

  • Complete refers to the presence of its parts. ("depth")

Relatedly, "complete" can be used as a synonym to "finished", meaning there is no further work remaining to be done.

Example 1: In programming, comprehensive utilities are usually referred as "frameworks", and focused utilities are usually referred to as "libraries."

Either of these could be complete (offer applicable functionality) or incomplete.

Example 2: A reference book can be complete without being comprehensive of a subject. Likewise, it could be comprehensive in its scope, but not as of yet complete.

  • 1
    Is this answer different from the one by Ted? – jsw29 Dec 17 '19 at 17:03
  • @jsw29, yes. In content, organization, and examples. – Paul Draper Dec 31 '19 at 1:52

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