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My another post uses the expression "complete list".

A meta post uses "full list". So, I guess "full list" is idiomatic.

The question is,

Is "complete list" also idiomatic?

Are those 2 interchangeable in this context?

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  • A list of what exactly?? – Lambie Mar 4 '20 at 18:09
  • @Lambie A list of privileges on SE. – WXJ96163 Mar 4 '20 at 22:55
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Yes, "complete list" is idiomatic. You can check several examples in Cambridge Dictionary:

A complete list is given in the related work section.

I have no idea how many words a complete list would contain.

etc.

There may be different contexts in which either a "complete" or "full" list is used more commonly. For example, in medical texts, they much more commonly use "a complete list of symptoms" than "a full list of symptoms."

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  • Exactly, because there isn't such a thing as a full list of symptoms since we can't know them all, they keep versions and have a complete list to the current day. – SovereignSun Mar 3 '20 at 11:47
  • @SovereignSun Thanks guys, Jan and SovereignSun. I feel that "complete list" might be more idiomatic than "full list", as Cambridge Dictionary does not even have a definition about "full list". – WXJ96163 Mar 3 '20 at 12:01
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In other contexts, "full" and "complete" mean different things. "Full" is normally used when speaking about something with a predefined capacity, for example, a jug could be full of liquid, but it does not contain all the liquid in the world.

A "list" does not have a defined capacity - it is either complete, or not. So, in the context of a list, "full" and "complete" are really synonymous. They can only mean the same thing. If a list were to become out of date, it would cease to be a full list, or a complete list.

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  • A full list is a list that covers all the range of elements within a context, but it is always editable. A complete list is duplicate of a full list but with an agreement that at the moment of birth this list is the full range of all known elements. – SovereignSun Mar 3 '20 at 11:52
  • See also Ngram: "a full list" vs "a complete list" – Mari-Lou A Mar 4 '20 at 8:21
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In terms of the subtle difference between "full" and "complete":

  • a full list - is a list of all that wasn't omitted (also suggests that there exists or could exist a shortened list). It may be a list where certain elements may yet be removed, changed or added or it could be a general list of all certain elements in existence.

  • a complete list - is a version of a full list that is committed, for instance as a result of an agreement, decision or resolution. Elements on this list are fixed as the total amount to the day of birth.

For instance we have a full list of participating condidates for a competition that hasn't yet started, we can cut that down to a complete list of competitors that eventually took part in the competition. As a result we get two lists, a full list of candidates who were initially registered for the competition and a complete list of competitors who did actually participate in the competition.

However, this difference is non-obligatory and ignored in many cases, except in business, IT and some others.

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  • For the purposes of a list, "complete" and "full" can only mean the same thing - 100%. Any list can become out of date, and then it is neither full nor complete. – user103227 Mar 3 '20 at 11:37
  • @FrankTownend You definitely don't work with IT documents and business papers. Especially with versions of documents. – SovereignSun Mar 3 '20 at 11:39
  • Actually, yes I do - I'm an IT manager working in an ITIL environment, but I don't see how that has anything to do with the OP's question? – user103227 Mar 3 '20 at 11:42
  • @SovereignSun Industries have their own terminology - the IT industry certainly does. For example, the dictionary definition of the word "unresolved" has no bearing on how it is used in the IT service industry. I think you are confusing your industry's use of words with English grammar. – Astralbee Mar 3 '20 at 11:43
  • @FrankTownend Well I am a programmer in IT and we have full lists, complete lists and signed lists, even incomplete full lists and full lists that are cut down to queried needs. – SovereignSun Mar 3 '20 at 11:44

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