Complaint vs. Complain: What’s the Difference? (2023)

Sometimes, a speaker doesn’t clearly pronounce a letter, like the “t” in “complaint,” making it harder for the person learning English to discriminate between “complain” and “complaint.” Others confuse the function and meaning of the two words and also spell the past tense of “complain” incorrectly. What is the difference between “complaint” and “complain”?

The difference between “complaint” and “complain” is that “complaint” is a noun, and we use it to describe dissatisfaction or discomfort. “Complain” is a verb, and we use it to describe the act of expressing dissatisfaction. Since “complaint” is not a verb, you can never use it as the spelling of the past tense of “complain,” which is “complained.”

Read on and discover the roots of these two words and learn how to use them correctly and avoid confusion.

Complaint vs. Complain: Noun vs. Verb

In most cases, we can use “complain” and “complaint” to convey the same basic message to the reader or listener — they both deal with either the expression or the description of dissatisfaction.

However, the words do not function the same way as they are two distinct parts of speech: one is a noun, and the other is a verb.

As a noun, a complaint is the expression of pain, dissatisfaction, or discontent. Therefore, a complaint is the content of something you are complaining about. English generally uses it in a negative way, as in “She made a complaint about the lack of hot water.

As a verb, to “complain” is the act of expressing pain, dissatisfaction, or discontent. The distinction between the two is, therefore, that of the expression (noun) and the act of expressing (verb).

Using Complain vs. Complaint

The following examples demonstrate the correct use of the verb “complain” and the noun “complaint.”

Using “complain” as the act of expressing dissatisfaction:

I complain every day about the neighbor’s loud music.

They complain that the bus is always late.

She complains that his harsh tone is unprofessional.

Using “complaint” to refer to a particular expression or statement of dissatisfaction:

My complaint has stopped my neighbor from playing loud music.

Their complaint is that the bus is always late.

They attended to her written complaint regarding his harsh tone.

Note that the act of complaining involves making a statement or complaint, so the two are intertwined. Again, it is the difference between expressing annoyance and describing the expression itself as a thing.


I want to complain about my teacher’s behavior.
I’m supplying you with a written complaint against my teacher.

The employees complained to their union about the loud factory noise.
The employees sent a complaint against the loud factory noise to their union.

Nowadays very few students complain about the parking facilities.
Student complaints about parking facilities are now at the lowest level ever.

The Etymology of Complain and Complaint

Both “complain” and “complaint” entered English around the 14th century from Old French. They came from different forms of the same root word, complaindre.


“Complain” originates from the stem of the Old French word complaindre, and Vulgar Latin complangere originally meaning “to beat the breast.” The word came to English as a verb in the late 14th century. Complaindre translates into English as “to find fault,” “to criticize,” and “to express dissatisfaction” (source).

It means that when you complain, you are making a formal accusation to a person or an authority about something dissatisfactory. You also use “complain” when you tell somebody about your bodily ailment and pain.

Since the 14th century, “complain” has meant to “utter expressions of grief or pain.”


“Complaint” also originates from Old French. It comes from the French word complainte, the noun usage of the Latin feminine past participle of complaindre. Complainte translates to English as “lament.”

From the 14th century on, English speakers and writers have used “complaint” as a noun. Since then, the word has described a statement of lamentation, disapproval, or grievance.

From the early 1700s, “complaint” also had the meaning “state of bodily ailment.”

Since the words appeared in English in the 14th century, writers have never used them interchangeably. “Complain” has always functioned as a verb and “complaint” as a noun.

Other Noun Forms: Complainant, Complainer, and Complainee

Complaint vs. Complain: What’s the Difference? (1)

It’s probably no coincidence that these words emerged as the English legal system underwent development in the 14th century. Let’s have a look at a few of the related noun forms, whether regarding legal cases or common use.

Complainant and Plaintiff

You call the person who brings a civil lawsuit against somebody the complainant. In contrast, the person who the official complaint is against is the plaintiff.

Complainer and Complainee

More commonly, a complainer is a person who complains in conversations or writing. You are technically a complainer if you only complain, but we often use “complainer” to describe someone who complains habitually. The person who the complaint is about is the “complainee.”

Difference Between “Grievance” and “Complaint”

We’ve now explained the differences between “complain” and “complaint,” but people also very often use “complaint” when they actually mean ”grievance” and vice versa. Let’s look at the basic difference between a grievance and a complaint.

A complaint is always related to the verb “complain.” If you complain to somebody about something that affects you negatively, you have a complaint.

(Video) Complain vs Complaint / Difference between Complain and complaint / #shorts #youtubeshorts

However, a grievance does not necessarily have a relation with the verb “grieve.” You generally use “grieve” for feelings regarding the loss of a loved one. A grievance, however, is an emotional state towards something that affects you negatively and that you deem wrong.

The main difference is that you communicate complaints to other people, while you don’t have to share your grievances with others as it is a very personal feeling you have. Still, a grievance may turn into a complaint if the person acts on those feelings.

In official business, however, many use the more formal “grievance” for serious complaints. You will tell somebody that your main grievance is your employer’s harassment of you. Note that we do not use any preposition with the word “grievance” in this context.

What Is the Plural of Complaint?

The noun “complaint” can be countable or uncountable. In general, people use “complaint” as either a singular or plural noun. For example, we normally say that someone has lodged a complaint. The complaint can consist of many aspects the person is complaining about, but you refer to it as one complaint (source).

However, people use “complaints” sometimes regarding various types of complaints or a collection of complaints.

To illustrate the correct way to use “complain,” “complaint,” and “complaints,” look at the following sentences:

The principal received the student’s written complaint in which each student complains about the lack of parking space and recreational areas. Still, it is only one of many complaints he has received during the month.

Verb Tenses of Complain

In addition to “complain,” the other verb forms include the present tense “complains” and the past tense “complained.” Let’s examine these closer.

Simple Present Tense

“Complain” is a verb in the simple present tense, meaning we can say “I/you/they complain” and “he/she/it complains.”

We use this tense for an action that happens now or that happens regularly.

They complain every day about the same things.

In the simple present tense, most verbs remain in the root form, except in the third-person singular, where it ends on -s (source).

She complains every day about the same thing.

It’s essential to note that “complains” is a verb in the third-person singular, while “complaints” is the plural of the noun “complaint.”

Simple Past Tense

The simple past tense of “complain” is “complained.” You use this tense for an action that took place in the past.

Yesterday, he complained about the dog barking in the garden.

Note that “complained” is the past tense for the verb “complain.” We never use “complaint” as a verb, though they might sound similar at times.

(Video) Difference Between COMPLAIN & COMPLAINT | Complain VS Complaint | Dexterity Presentation

Present and Past Perfect

One uses “complained” as a verb in the present perfect tense and the past perfect tense. If something has happened already before the present action or situation, you use the present perfect tense.

The window in her room is broken, and she has complained about it already.

When you describe an action or situation before another action in the past, you use the past perfect tense.

After he had complained about the broken lock, the handyman fixed it yesterday.

Using the Adverb Complainingly

The correct adverb for “complain” is “complainingly.” We can also use adverbs to modify the verb “complain” to describe the way someone complained.

They moved complainingly into the Covid-19 isolation ward.

They bitterly complained about the move to the Covid-19 isolation ward.

Still, we don’t see the adverb “complainingly” very often in English. Linguists also calculated that of the two words, “complains” and “complaints,” English speakers use “complaints” about four times more frequently than “complains” in written sources (source).

Using Prepositions with Complain and Complaint

As verbs, you’ll often see “complain” and “complaining” followed by prepositions like “about” and “to.”

They complain about the bad behavior of the players on the field.

They are now complaining to the coach.

As nouns, you’ll often see “complaint” and “complaints” followed by prepositions like “against,” “from,” or ‘by.”

Their complaint against the bad behavior of the players is receiving attention.

The coach received many complaints from spectators regarding the behavior of the players.

One receives a complaint from someone or receives a complaint by someone.

And, sometimes, you don’t use a preposition at all, like in “We have a well-designed complaints procedure.”

In some contexts, you can use more than one preposition with the noun “complaint” without substantively changing the meaning of the sentence or phrase. Consider the following two examples.

(Video) Complaint vs complain vs compliance#Non compliance#

I want to make a complaint about the dog’s owner.

I want to make a complaint against the dog’s owner.

Applying Both Words to Issues of Health

Complaint vs. Complain: What’s the Difference? (2)

We’ll often hear someone use either “complain” or “complaint” to refer to health issues. Look at the following to see the different usage.


When someone uses “complain” with the preposition “of,” they’re generally referring to symptoms of an illness or the pain itself.

All the children who have visited the restaurant complain of stomach pain.

You can also use “complain” or “complaining” to describe a groan or creak under strain. One can, as an example, describe pain in your leg after physical exercises by referring to it as the muscles in your leg complaining because of the strain.


Some use “complaint” to refer to an illness or a medical condition, especially a relatively minor one.

He went to a medical doctor to get treatment for his skin complaint.

Common Sources of Confusion

There are also other reasons apart from the verb-noun issue for why some English speakers, especially especially as a second language, sometimes confuse “complain” and “complaint.”

Again, many will not pronounce the “t” in “complaint” clearly in casual conversation, so those unfamiliar with the language are likely to misunderstand. If the listener is not a mother-tongue speaker and is still learning the language, they don’t pick up on the difference between the words.

It’s also a relatively easy typo to make since there’s only a one-letter difference between the two.

Unless someone makes them aware of the difference between “complain” and “complaint,” they can easily conflate “complaint” with “complained” or even “complain” with “complaint.”This article was written for

For more on spelling and verb tense, read our article “Eaten or Ate: Past Tense vs. Past Participle.

Final Thoughts

As in any language, people use some words and phrases incorrectly. Often, even mother-tongue speakers make the same mistakes. So, if you are a student learning English, there’s no need to complain if you don’t have mastered all the finer nuances of words yet.

Here’s one quick tip on how to remember whether “complaint” is a noun or a verb: we use nouns to refer to things. Since “complaint” is a noun, and you spell it with a “t,” remember that “t” stands for “things.”


What is the difference of complain vs complaint? ›

But what is the difference? Complaints means expressions of discontent, pain, or grief when used as a noun. Complains means expressing discomfort, pain, or unease when used as a verb.

How do you use complain and complaint in a sentence? ›

We value complaining customers because they help us to improve. Complaining makes me feel better. I have received a complaint about our services.

Is it my only complain or complaint? ›

Main Difference – Complain vs. Complaint. Complain and complaint are two words that are used to express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something. The main difference between complain and complaint is that complain is a verb whereas complaint is a noun.

What does it mean if you complain? ›

to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault. He complained constantly about the noise in the corridor.

Why do people complain and complain? ›

Complaints can make us feel like we connect with someone because we have a mutual dissatisfaction about something,” he says. But people tend to confuse complaining with venting, says Winch. When we complain, we want to fix an injustice, he says.

What is an example of complain? ›

Example Sentences

He works hard but he never complains. If you're unhappy with the service, you should complain to the manager. The students complained that the test was too hard. “These shoes are too tight,” he complained.

How do you say complain in a polite way? ›

phrases for making complaints in English
  1. I'm sorry to say this, but…
  2. I'd like to make a complaint about…
  3. I'm afraid I'd like to complain to you.
  4. Excuse me, but I'm really not happy with…
  5. Excuse me, but there seems to be a problem…
  6. There appears to be something wrong with…
  7. I was really upset when…
Nov 24, 2021

How can I use complaint? ›

Our offer was a complaint. Hers is a common complaint. He can have no complaints.

What is a nice way to say complaint? ›

Here are five simple tips to help you stay calm, be polite and get what you want when you complain in English.
  1. Start politely. ...
  2. Make your request into a question. ...
  3. Explain the problem. ...
  4. Don't blame the person you are dealing with. ...
  5. Show the you are in the know.

What is not a complaint? ›

What is not a complaint? A request for a service that is made for the first time. For example, if you report your neighbours for making a noise and we fail to investigate your complaint then it becomes a complaint.

What makes people complain? ›

In Will Bowen's excellent TED Talk “A World Without Complaining”, he explains that the five reasons people complain so much are to get attention, to remove responsibility, to inspire envy (or brag), to make themselves more powerful, and to excuse poor performance. Let's dig into these a bit deeper with a few examples.

Is complain a negative word? ›

Complaining has a negative connotation, and is viewed as a bad thing by most people — especially if you work in an industry where customer satisfaction is key to success.

What is a person who always complains called? ›

complainers. Definitions of complainer. a person given to excessive complaints and crying and whining. synonyms: bellyacher, crybaby, grumbler, moaner, sniveller, squawker, whiner.

What do you say to someone who complains all the time? ›

11 Phrases to Effectively Respond to Complaining
  • "Go on. I'm listening." ...
  • "Let me see if I got that." ...
  • "Is there more?"
  • 4. " ...
  • "What would you like to see happen next?" ...
  • 6. " ...
  • "What did they say when you discussed this with them?"
  • "What steps have you taken to try to solve the problem?"
Jan 24, 2020

Is it toxic to complain? ›

Now, let's get this straight — complaining is not bad at all, but when you do it constantly, it can turn toxic in more ways than one. That's because complaining signifies that you are not accepting of what's happening in your life. Unfortunately, it carries a very negative energy.

What are the 4 types of complaints? ›

When customers are dissatisfied with the service you're providing, they will be one of four kinds of complainers: aggressive, expressive, passive or constructive.

What are the three types of complaints? ›

3 most common types of customer complaints
  • Inferior product or service. Not surprisingly, dissatisfaction with a product or service is a common cause of customer complaints. ...
  • Delivery issues. ...
  • Indifferent customer service.
May 18, 2022

What are the two types of complaints? ›

There are two types of complaints; misconduct and overcharging.

What is a reply to a complaint? ›

Sample Letter Responding to a Complaint

Hello, [Customer Name], I've had a chance to review your complaint, and I'd like to apologize for [Issue]. Thank you for taking the time to share that with me so I can make it right. [Rephrase issue] is something that our team at [Company] doesn't take lightly.

What are types of complaints? ›

Customer Complaints
  • Long Wait on Hold. ...
  • Unavailable or Out of Stock Product. ...
  • Making Customers Repeat Their Problem. ...
  • Uninterested Service Rep. ...
  • Poor Product or Service. ...
  • No First Call Resolution. ...
  • Lack of Follow Up. ...
  • New Product or Feature Request.
Oct 10, 2022

Which word is the most similar to complain? ›

synonyms for complain
  • accuse.
  • criticize.
  • denounce.
  • disagree.
  • fret.
  • gripe.
  • grumble.
  • lament.

What are the 3 steps of a complaint? ›

The retailer provided the refund and paid for the return shipping. Regardless of the complaint's cause or validity, there are three steps that a customer service department can take: “listen,” “resolve,” and “log.”

What kind of people complain a lot? ›

There are those who never seem to be satisfied. These are known as chronic complainers. They have a tendency to ruminate on problems and to focus on setbacks over progress. Some research suggests that making a habit of complaining can “re-wire” the brain so that those particular thinking orientations become ingrained.

What does the Bible say about complaining? ›

Memorize this truth: "Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God" (Philippians 2:14-15). Ask this question: Will you give God an opportunity to work on your behalf by trusting him, or miss out on his provision by complaining?

What is the most common type of complaint? ›

10 common customer complaints
  1. Product is out of stock. ...
  2. Broken/defective product. ...
  3. Product doesn't meet expectations. ...
  4. Preferred payment not accepted. ...
  5. Long hold times. ...
  6. Disinterested customer service. ...
  7. Having to restate the issue. ...
  8. Issue not resolved on first call.
May 5, 2022

Is it good to complain in a relationship? ›

Complaining can ruin a relationship in many ways. It can cause tension and anger, it can make the other person feel like they're always wrong, and it can lead to a rift between the two people. If a man or a woman is complaining, all of these factors can ultimately lead to a breakup.

Is complaint past tense of complain? ›

The past tense of complain is complained. Lots of people have complained about the noise. They complained about the food. He complained bitterly about his exam grades.

What can I use instead of complain? ›

synonyms for complain
  • accuse.
  • criticize.
  • denounce.
  • disagree.
  • fret.
  • gripe.
  • grumble.
  • lament.

What is another name for complaint? ›

synonyms for complaint
  • accusation.
  • charge.
  • criticism.
  • grievance.
  • gripe.
  • objection.
  • protest.
  • trouble.

What are the 3 forms of complain? ›

The past tense of complain is complained. The third-person singular simple present indicative form of complain is complains. The present participle of complain is complaining. The past participle of complain is complained.

Is complaint a negative word? ›

Complaining has a negative connotation, and is viewed as a bad thing by most people — especially if you work in an industry where customer satisfaction is key to success.

What type of word is complain? ›

complain is a verb, complaint is a noun:They always complain about the homework.

What is considered a valid complaint? ›

valid complaint means a complaint the administering authority considers is not frivolous, nor vexatious, nor based on mistaken belief. valid complaint means all complaints unless considered by the administering authority to be frivolous, vexatious or based on mistaken belief.

What are most common complaints? ›

Customer Complaints
  • Long Wait on Hold. ...
  • Unavailable or Out of Stock Product. ...
  • Making Customers Repeat Their Problem. ...
  • Uninterested Service Rep. ...
  • Poor Product or Service. ...
  • No First Call Resolution. ...
  • Lack of Follow Up. ...
  • New Product or Feature Request.
Oct 10, 2022

Is it OK to complain? ›

Constantly complaining can be an easy way to frustrate our confidantes, but there is research that shows it can also be a useful tool in bonding and helping us process emotions like stress and frustration. “In short: Yes, it's good to complain, yes, it's bad to complain, and yes, there's a right way to do it,” Dr.

What is an answer to a complaint called? ›

An answer is a formal written response to the plaintiff's complaint in which the defendant responds to all of the allegations in the complaint and sets forth any defenses to all or part of plaintiff's claims. An answer is filed by the defendant after s/he has been served with a copy of the complaint.

What is a person who complains called? ›

complainant. noun. com·​plain·​ant kəm-ˈplā-nənt. : one who makes a legal complaint. : one who complains.


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