Finish or Complete?

23 June 2023

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question about the difference between "finish" and "complete."


Hello VOA Learning English,

Ask a Teacher: Finish or Complete?
Ask a Teacher: Finish or Complete?

My name is Bear Wang, and I am from China. I have a question. What is the difference between "finish" and "complete?"

Looking forward to your reply.




Thank you for this great question, Bear.

Both words share a similar meaning of "coming to an end," but there are small differences in their meanings as verbs. They can be used as different parts of speech. We often use them in different situations. Let's look at the differences more closely.

"Finish" as a verb means "to come to an end or close." We can use it with or without a direct object.

The school day finishes at three in the afternoon. (No direct object)

We finished dinner then watched a movie before going to bed. (With a direct object)

"Finish" can also mean the final ranking of teams or players in a competition.

The basketball team finished 2nd in the state championship.

Another meaning of "finish" as a verb is to defeat, ruin, or even kill:

The criminal charges finished his hopes of a political career.

In the video game, Mortal Kombat, players can perform a kill action to finish off their opponent.

The word "finish" can also be a noun that means "something that perfects or completes" such as the appearance of the surface of a material. "Finish" can even be used to describe the taste of a drink or food in the mouth.

His house has many well-made finishes on its marble countertops and hardwood floors.

The finish of the wine is fruity and fresh.

Let's move onto "complete."

"Complete" as a verb has a similar meaning to "finish," but instead of just "to end," it means "finish making or doing something in its entirety."

We can use it with a direct object.

She completed her bachelor's degree last May.

Kaitlyn completed reading the series of over twelve books!

"Complete" also means to make something perfect or whole.

The shoes complete Daria's outfit for her brother's wedding.

The band completed their final set with one of their most popular songs.

As a verb, "complete" means to fill in all the questions on a form.

The doctor reminded the patient to complete both sides of the health history form.

And lastly, "complete" can be used as an adjective. It has several meanings as this part of speech. It can mean "having all steps or parts." It can mean "total," "thorough," or "whole." And "complete" can also signify that something has "ended" or "finished."

The writing assignment is not complete until you return the second draft to your teacher with corrections.

Her day always feels complete after she reads a book in bed.

Please let us know if these explanations and examples have helped you, Bear.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

ranking n. a position in a list that shows things or people of importance

marble n. a kind of stone that is often polished and used in buildings and statues

entirety – n. the whole or total amount of a material or result of an action

setn. a sequence of songs performed together for a live concert or recording

draft – n. a version of a document that is made in preparation for the final version­­­­­­