The Most Insincere Compliments And What To Say Instead

WATCH: How Do Certain Words Make Things Seem Less Trustworthy?

Most people love to get praise or compliments. Not all compliments are created equal, though. The best praise is specific. When it’s clear that you really took the time to understand or pay attention to the person you’re praising, that praise feels sincere. Think about the time you spent all day on a piece of macaroni art in kindergarten, only to have your parents say, “Very nice, dear.” They didn’t seem to notice how carefully you glued on all that pasta! It was an exceptional, marvelous, outstanding effort, wasn’t it?

This is why overused complimentary phrases like “Good job!” and “Nice work!” often sound insincere. They don’t feel tailored to the situation. Using specific, unique language can help beef up your compliments and make sure that they really land. We have some strong synonyms for you to try instead of the classic “How nice!” and “So interesting!” Check them out below.

A better word for great

The word great comes up a lot in stock compliments like “great job” and “great work.” Great is an old word that comes from the Old English grēat, variously meaning “large,” “thick,” and “extensive.” Over time, great developed its more contemporary senses of significant, outstanding.” By the 1200s, it extended to describe anything that was “of particular importance, fame, or note.” Later, the word came to mean “exceptional,” although frequent use over time came to weaken the force of the word in everyday settings (e.g., “that’s great” doesn’t sound so … great). 

We use great as an adjective in compliments today to express that something stands out or is particularly remarkable. Any of these more interesting synonyms could substitute for great in that context instead:

  • exceptional: Something that is particularly accomplished or stand-out, like a piece of work or art, can be described as exceptional. I don’t think I’ve ever had a meal quite so exceptional.
  • fantastic: This word can be used to describe anything that brings you joy or sparks your imagination. We had a fantastic time at the amusement park.
  • terrific: Anything that is superlatively good can be described as terrific, especially good news or an accomplishment. Did you hear the terrific news? James got a promotion at work.
  • tremendous: This word is best to describe things that are astounding because of their quality or work that demonstrates great skill. Samantha did tremendous work closing the deal last quarter.

A better word for nice

Nice is one of those words that, even when said in all sincerity, often sounds sarcastic. That might have something to do with the fact that nice originally meant “foolish” or “stupid” when it first entered English around 1250. Today, nice means “pleasing” or “agreeable.” Instead of describing someone or something as nice, these synonyms can substitute:

  • lovely: This word is particularly helpful for describing things that are pleasing to the senses, like the weather. This flower arrangement you’ve given me is lovely.
  • delightful: Delightful is best for describing moments or sights that cause joy. I found the play delightful.
  • charming: The origin of charm is connected to spells and the belief in magical activities, and it still has that connotation today. Anything that casts a spell on you— particularly a charismatic person—is called charmingYou are very charming and an excellent conversationalist.
  • gracious: This word is used to commend someone who is particularly kind and thoughtful. It’s very gracious of you to bring us a house warming present!

(We’ve got even more synonyms for nice, if you’re interested!)

A better word for good

The word good has a strong moral significance, but we tend to use it for anything we like in everyday life. It’s a very old word, dating to before the year 900. Anything we enjoy, even a little bit, can be called good: a meal, a vacation, a nap. So while it is still meaningful when someone praises your character as good, the word has less impact when it comes to more quotidian things like a good cup of coffee, even if the intention is sincere.

When praising something as good because it is of high quality, consider using some of its synonyms:

  • excellent: This word will help you express that something is particularly pleasing. Your cooking is excellent.
  • superb: This word is used for anything magnificent or splendid, like quality food or plans for an outing. We had a superb time at the swimming pool.
  • wonderful: This adjective is best for things that inspire astonishment or awe, like spectacles or fantastic experiences. The pyrotechnics in the show were simply wonderful.
  • marvelous: This word works well to compliment things that taste or look pleasing. This is a marvelous cup of tea.

A better word for cute

Our suggestion here to use another word besides cute is in no way a knock on kawaii culture or cuteness in general. Cute originally meant “sharp” or “clever” (as in acute) when it was first recorded around 1615. By around 1850, though, cute came to be used as synonymous for attractive. In this sense, the word cute is too often used to belittle or infantilize someone, particularly women. Even literal babies deserve a more interesting compliment than “So cute!” That’s why we suggest these synonyms instead:

  • adorable: Try using this word for small children and pets. Your pit bull is adorable!
  • sweet: A kind or thoughtful action or person could be described as sweet. It’s very sweet of you to call me on my birthday.
  • lovable: Consider this synonym to talk about a cuddly animal or a fictional character who is well liked. Sherri’s pet chameleon is very lovable.
  • winsome: This word is generally used to compliment someone’s charming or pleasing appearance and character. What a winsome smile you have!

A better word for pretty

Describing someone or something using the adjective pretty is a pleasant enough way to compliment appearance. But this very old word (it dates to before 1000) is a bit too well worn. Also, like cute, it can sometimes be used in a way that feels infantilizing, particularly to women. One of these synonyms might make a better impression than pretty when you are complimenting appearance:

  • elegant: This word can be used to describe someone or something that is refined, particularly clothes. Your dress is so elegant!
  • pleasant: Things that are mildly appealing, like events and weather, can be described as pleasantWe had a very pleasant time with your family last year at the shore.
  • graceful: Typically this word is used to describe a person or animal who moves in a pleasing, composed way. The dancers were so graceful.
  • handsome: This word generally refers to men who are attractive, but it can also describe anything that appears strong and stately, even inanimate objects. This is a very handsome set of drawers.
  • neat: Use this word to express that something is interesting, particularly when it’s surprising or intellectually stimulating. This new design of yours is really neat.

A better word for like

We don’t have a problem with like as a slang interjection. But saying “I like it” as a compliment is more or less meaningless. It’s such an empty compliment because it is so general. It’s also one of the oldest compliments in the world: it’s been used in this way since before the year 1000. Instead of like, try one of its synonyms, such as these stronger verbs of approval:

  • admire: This word can express the feeling of looking up to someone or something. I really admire your work.
  • appreciate: If you want to express how deeply you are thankful, use appreciate. My brother really appreciated that you called to congratulate him.
  • go for: This informal expression is perfect for describing personal preferences. I think my dad will really go for this watch.
  • cherish: This verb will convey how precious and valuable something is, literally or figuratively. We will truly cherish this drawing you’ve given us.

A better word for creative

Human beings are naturally creative. That’s a big part of what sets us apart from other animals. The adjective creative is in evidence in English from 1670. The word comes from the Latin creāre, a verb meaning “to make.” Humans love to make and create new things—which might be why describing something as creative doesn’t feel like much of a compliment. If you’re making just about anything, it is technically creative. But there are more interesting ways to praise someone’s innovations:

  • gifted: Use this to compliment someone with particular talents or skills. You’re a very gifted pianist.
  • ingenious: This word applies to someone with a creative talent or a gift for problem-solving.Of course, it can also apply that person’s work. This ingenious invention is going to change lives.
  • innovative: Use this word for creative new solutions or ideas. The committee was impressed with this innovative solution.
  • original: Reserve this word for objects or styles that are unique. This painting is quite original; where did you get it?
  • visionary: Typically, this word describes an idea or a person that is ambitious and futuristic. I find your work truly visionary and inspiring.

A better word for unique

This final word, unique, has long been the source of controversy. The word unique comes from Latin by way of French. It literally means “existing as the only one or sole example.” In other words, unique is a so-called “absolute” word, like perfect. Some argue that this means it shouldn’t ever be modified, as in “that is very unique.” But our problem with unique isn’t this issue. Because the word unique is used so frequently, the sense that it describes something singular or irreplaceable has been lost. That’s why we prefer these alternatives:

  • extraordinary: This word communicates that something stands out from the crowd. Your work is truly extraordinary.
  • incomparable: Typically, this word is used for things that are superlative, especially when it comes to performance or beauty. The soprano’s voice is incomparable.
  • peerless: This one applies to people who are incomparable. My aunt has peerless fashion sense.

Try to add these words to your compliment grab bag. You’ll be surprised how much folks appreciate praise that isn’t just “good job.”

While we can offer suggestions about better words to use, our best piece of advice is to use as many details as possible. Let the person you are complimenting know that you notice the specific work they put into what you are praising. Say what part of the story you liked best, mention that you noticed their effort to work late every night, or describe how a particular moment made you feel. And throw in a few remarkables and a delightful, and you’re well on your way to creating top-notch compliments for the superlative people in your lives.

 

All this talk of compliments has us wondering if you know the difference between compliments and complements.

Looking for more ways to improve your communication? Stop using these phrases in 2020 (and use some synonyms instead).

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