Who uses compliments to whom on which occasions?

Who uses compliments to whom? Are some groups of people, e.g. women, more likely to give and receive compliments? Can we discern clear gender patterns in complimenting behaviour? Are there situations in which compliments are particularly appropriate or inappropriate?

This set of questions has received a considerable amount of attention. It was Holmes (1988, 1995) who opened up this line of research on the basis of her New Zealand data. She focused in particular on the gender patterns and combined this with research questions on the object of the compliments. For instance, she found not only that women use compliments to each other significantly more often than they do to men or men do to each other; but she also found that women use a syntactic form which strengthens the positive force of the compliment significantly more often than men do, whereas men use a form which attenuates or hedges on compliment force significantly more often than women do. She also found that women compliment each other on appearance more than on any other topic, while compliments on possessions are used significantly more often between males. And compliments to those of different status tend to focus on skills or performance (Holmes 1988, 1995) (see Who/where/when – Field – Diary, but also Patterns – Field – Diary and Object – Field – Diary).

For a discussion of the suitability of different research methods for this particular set of questions see: