Skip to main content

Full vs Complete vs Plenary vs Replete

Full, completeplenaryreplete are not interchangeable with each other, but the last three are interchangeable with the most comprehensive term, full, in at least one of its senses.

Full implies the presence or inclusion of everything that is wanted or required by something or that can be held, contained, or attained by it; thus, a full year numbers 365 days or, in leap years, 366 days; a full basket is one that can hold nothing more; a full mind is stocked to the point of overflowing with knowledge or ideas; a full moon has reached the height of its illumination by the sun; a full stomach is one that can contain no more food with comfort or is completely satisfied; a full meal is one lacking in none of the courses or sometimes in none of the elements to make a satisfying or balanced meal; a sponge full of water has absorbed all the water it can hold.

Complete comes into comparison and close synonymity with full when the latter implies the entirety that is needed to the perfection, consummation, integrity, or realization of a thing; thus, a fire in which the fuel is quite consumed may be described as involving either full or complete combustion; a complete meal is the same as a full meal; a teacher should have complete, or full, control of his class <if you consider the ritual of the Church during the cycle of the year, you have the complete drama represented. The Mass is a small drama, having all the unities; but in the Church year you have represented the full drama of creation —T. S. Eliot >  <the panorama of today’s events is not an accurate or complete picture, for history will supply posterity with much evidence which is hidden from the eyes of contemporaries —Eliot >

Plenary comes into comparison with full when full implies the absence of every qualification or even suggestion of qualification as to a thing’s completeness. Plenary, however, heightens the force of full in this sense and carries a stronger suggestion of absoluteness; thus, to give plenary powers is to give full power without the slightest qualification; a plenary indulgence implies the remission of the entire temporal punishment due for one’s sins <by this word “miracle” I meant to suggest to you a something like plenary inspiration in these … men; an inspiration at once supernatural and so authoritative that it were sacrilege now to alter their text by one jot or tittle —Quiller Couch >

Replete (with), the more bookish term, as compared with full (of), heightens the implication of abundant supply or of being filled to the brim with something <he is quick, unaffected, replete with anecdote —Hazlitt >  <an anxious captain, who has suddenly got news, replete with importance for him —Henry James >  Often, however, the term implies fullness to satiety or to the point of being surfeited <right reading makes a full man in a sense even better than Bacon’s; not replete, but complete rather, to the pattern for which Heaven designed him —Quiller Couch >  <replete with hard and book-learned words, impressively sonorous —Southern >