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?

  • A list of what exactly??
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 18:09
  • @Lambie A list of privileges on SE.
    – WXJ96163
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 22:55

3 Answers 3


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.


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."

  • 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. Commented Mar 3, 2020 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
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 12:01

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 If a list were to become out of date, it would cease to be a full list, or a complete list.

  • 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. Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 11:52
  • See also Ngram: "a full list" vs "a complete list"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 8:21

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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 11:37
  • @FrankTownend You definitely don't work with IT documents and business papers. Especially with versions of documents. Commented Mar 3, 2020 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
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 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
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 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. Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 11:44

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