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Encountering the Communicative Act

Compliment Sequences

What is the communicative function of a compliment sequence?

Before learning the pragmatic strategies used to compliment and respond to compliments, it is important to understand the communicative functions of compliment sequences in interaction.

In other words, why are compliments used? As you will see, they are used for many functions, such as flirting or opening a conversation. How many different communicative functions do compliments have in the English language? Try to think of at least four.




Do you have more than four?

As is the case with many pragmatic features, the communicative function of compliments varies among speakers of different language varieties. Even still, there are some commonalities.

Some example communicative functions...

Here are some of the most common functions that can be found for compliments in a number of languages:

Ice-breaker or "Social Lubricant"

For example, in an airport, a stranger might compliment someone's article of clothing or a piece of luggage in order to strike up a conversation.

Solidarity Builder

For example, someone compliments a friend's new shirt or his/her stellar performance in a basketball game.

Expression of Approval or to Set an Example

For example, a professor compliments a student's presentation in class to give the other students a model to follow.


Piropos are a classic example in Spanish. There is not a direct correlation in English, but in short, piropos might be what is considered "sometimes polite, flirtatious comments." Piropos are explored further in this module.

Now it's your turn...

Before attempting to select the appropriate strategies for complimenting and responding to compliments in Spanish, we suggest that you check out their communicative function.

See if you can identify the communicative function of the conversations below. Careful...sometimes you might find more than one.

Situation 1: Una presentación importante

A student has just finished an important presentation. The professor is impressed with a job well done.

Communicative Function

Situation 2: El saco bonito

A couple who has been dating for two years is going out for the evening. The girlfriend compliments her boyfriend's jacket and the conversation continues.

Communicative Function

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