How to Pay Someone a Compliment in English

People in coffee shop
Mike Harrington/Getty Images

One of the nicest things you can do in any language is to compliment someone. You might want to compliment someone on what they did, how they look or what they have. Here are forms and phrases to compliment others in English. I've arranged compliments into complimenting ability, complimenting looks, and complimenting possessions in both formal and informal situations.

Complimenting Ability 

Use these phrases to compliment someone on an ability they have.

If you'd like to learn something from the person about his / her ability, start with a compliment. The person will probably help you learn more and be happy to talk about how to do it.

Formal

  • If you don't mind my saying, you are a(n) excellent / outstanding / superb + (noun phrase)
  • I must say you really know how to + (verb)
  • You are a fine + (noun phrase)
  • What a(n) excellent / outstanding / superb / + (noun phrase) you are!
  • I admire your ability to + (verb)

Mr. Smith, if you don't mind my saying, you are an excellent public speaker.
I must say you really know how to paint.
I admire your ability to think on your feet.

Informal

  • You're great at (verb + ing)
  • You can really (verb) 
  • Wow, I wish I could (verb) as well as you!
  • You're an amazing / awesome / incredible + (noun phrase)

Wow! You're great at skiing!
You can really cook. This is amazing food!
You're an awesome student.

Complimenting Looks

Use these phrases to compliment someone on how they look.

I've divided this into two categories: for women and for men. It's important to use the right language for the situation. If you pay someone a compliment on their looks in the wrong way, it's possible that your compliment will not be accepted.

Formal

Notice how we ask permission to pay compliments on good looks in formal English.

This is to ensure that no one gets the wrong idea about your intention.

  • May I be so bold as to compliment your + (dress / hair / outfit / etc.)?
  • You are looking beautiful / handsome today.
  • May I pay you a compliment? You really look beautiful / handsome / elegant /etc. today.
  • I hope you don't mind, but you are looking beautiful / handsome today.

Ms Anders, may I be so bold as to compliment you on your dress?
I hope you don't mind, but I just had to say how wonderful you look today.
May I pay you a compliment Mary? You really look fantastic today.

Informal

  • Wow, you're hot!
  • You look great today!
  • Excuse me, are you a model?
  • I really love your (dress / hair / outfit / etc.).
  • What a beautiful (dress / shirt / blouse / haircut / etc.)!

Wow, you're hot! Would you like a drink?
Sherry, what a beautiful dress!
I really love your haircut. It makes you look like a movie star.

Complimenting Possessions

Use these phrases to compliment someone on something they have. People are often proud of their possessions, especially major objects such as a house, a car, or even a stereo system. Complimenting someone on a nice possession is a good way to make small talk. 

Formal

  • I couldn't help but notice your + (noun phrase) 
  • What a lovely + (noun) + you have!
  • You have such a wonderful / lovely / beautiful home / house / apartment / living room / etc.
  • I have to admit I'm jealous of your + (noun phrase)

Tom, I couldn't help but notice your Mercedes. It's a beauty!
I have to admit I'm jealous of your lovely garden.
You have such a cozy home. 

Informal

  • Nice + (noun phrase)
  • I like your + (noun phrase)
  • That's nice / pretty / beautiful / hot.
  • Cudos on the + (noun phrase) dude.

Nice car! Is it yours?
Cudos on the computer dude. Where did you get it?
Do you like my sweater? - That's nice!

Example 1: Ability

Gary: Hi Tim. Great round today.
Tim: Thanks Gary.

Gary: You can really hit the golf ball.
Tim: You're much too kind.

Gary: No really. I wish I could drive as well as you.
Tim: Well, take a few lessons. It'll happen.

Gary: I've thought about it.

Do you really think it helps?
Tim: I used to have a horrible drive. Try a lesson, it's worth the price.

Example 2: Looks

Ms Smith: Good morning Ms Anders. How are you today?
Mr Anders: Fine, thank you. And you?

Ms Smith: I'm very well. Thank you for asking. 
Mr Anders: Ms Smith, I hope you don't mind, but you are looking very well today.

Ms Smith: Thank you Mr Smith. That's kind of you to say so.
Mr Anders: Yes, well, have a good day Ms. Smith.

Ms Smith: Will I see you at the meeting at 3?
Mr Anders: Yes', I'll be there. 

Example 3: Possessions

Anna: Thanks for inviting us over for dinner this weekend.
Margaret: My pleasure, come right in.

Anna: What a lovely home you have! I love the furniture.
Margaret: Thank you. We like to call it home. It's cozy.

Anna: You have such exquisite taste in decor. 
Margaret: Now you are exaggerating!

Anna: No, really. it's so beautiful.
Margaret: Thank you. You're very kind.

More English Functions

Encouraging Others
Confirming Information
Comparing and Contrasting
Giving and Receiving Presents
Expressing Sadness
Asking for Information
Asking for Permission
Asking for a Favor
Disagreeing
Contrasting Ideas
Making Complaints
Asking for Information
Giving Advice
Guessing
Being Imprecise or Vague
Saying 'No' Nicely
Showing Preferences
Making Suggestions
Offering Help
Giving Warning
Demanding Explanations