'Complicated' or 'Complex': What is the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on November 9, 2022

Are you wondering whether you should use ‘complicated’ or ‘complex’ or what the difference is?  

‘Complicated’ and ‘complex’ are synonyms. So you can use them interchangeably. However, there are times when these two words can have different meanings. 

To learn more about these two words, read this guide. It contains definitions, synonyms, usage examples, and more. 

What is the Difference Between ‘Complicated’ and ‘Complex?’

Like most people, you probably use ‘complex’ and ‘complicated’ interchangeably. Many people do. That is because these two words are synonyms. A synonym is a word you can use instead of another.

If you look at these two words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definitions are nearly identical, and ‘complicated’ is in the definition of ‘complex.’ Nevertheless, many people use ‘complex’ to describe something with many moving parts, but that does not mean it is difficult or convoluted. 

‘Complicated,’ however, can indicate that something has more difficulty or advanced complexity or makes a situation more complex when it could be straightforward. 

What is the Definition of ‘Complicated?’

‘Complicated’ is an adjective that means a whole made of intricately combined parts or something challenging to understand, explain, and analyze. 

What is the Definition of ‘Complex?’

The word ‘complex’ is a noun or adjective. It means something that is made up of complicated parts or something made up of more than one part or unit. 

Apartment Buildings

A group of apartment buildings, townhomes, or condos is often called a ‘complex.’ 

An Unnatural Fixation or Preoccupation

Having an unnatural fear or fixation with something is a ‘complex.’ You may hear people say this in terms like: 

  • Inferiority ‘complex’
  • Fear ‘complex’
  • Guilt ‘complex’

Something Challenging to Separate

Chemists may use ‘complex’ to describe a compound or mixture in which there are multiple parts. 

For example: 

  • The pharmacist created a ‘complex’ according to the doctor's prescription. 

Synonyms for ‘Complicated’ or ‘Complex’

If you are looking for words to use instead of ‘complicated’ or ‘complex,’ there are plenty. Here are some of the synonyms you could use: 

  • Sophisticated
  • Tangled
  • Elaborate
  • Multifaceted
  • Intricate
  • Compound
  • Byzantine
  • Convoluted
  • Baroque

Examples of ‘Complex’ and ‘Complicated’ 

Take a look at these examples of ‘complex’ or ‘complicated’ used in sentences. 

‘Complex’ Sentence Examples

‘Complex’ describes something made of more than one part or parts that are challenging to separate. Here are some examples of ‘complex’ used in a sentence: 

  • The ‘complex’ problem required all hands on deck. 
  • A ‘complex’ issue came up yesterday. 
  • The ‘complex’ box is challenging to open, so it protects the contents. 

‘Complicated’ Sentence Examples 

‘Complicated’ has virtually the same meaning as ‘complex.’ Here are some examples of ‘complicated’ in a sentence: 

  • The ‘complicated’ course required all of Julie’s attention. 
  • Sometimes love is ‘complicated.’
  • On a side note, it is best to handle ‘complicated’ matters in the morning. 

‘Complicated’ and ‘Complex’ Used Interchangeably 

As mentioned, ‘complicated’ and ‘complex’ are synonyms. So, you can use ‘complicated’ or ‘complex’ interchangeably. Take a look: 

  • The directions to the party were ‘complicated.’
  • The directions to the party were ‘complex.’
  • Try to simplify that, it is too ‘complicated.’
  • Try to simplify that, it is too ‘complex.’
  • You do not have to make the situation that ‘complicated.’
  • You do not have to make the situation that ‘complex.’ 

As you can see in the examples above, a few of the sentences may sound better with one word or the other, but you can use either word. 

Writing Tips

Whether you send an email in the office or write a short story like Earnest Hemingway, repeating the same words makes your content feel repetitive. So, it helps to know words that you can use instead. Expanding your vocabulary can help you become a better writer. Here are a few other tips to help you improve your writing: 

  1. Never stop learning new words. 
  2. Be thorough. If you are unsure of the meaning of a word or the correct usage, look it up. 
  3. Read your work out loud after you finish writing. 
  4. Use synonyms for repetitive words. 
  5. Bookmark writingtips.org to quickly look up other confusing words.  

Final Advice on Using ‘Complicated’ or ‘Complex’ 

When trying to decide whether to use ‘complicated’ or ‘complex,’ the answer should be simple because you can use either. If you are writing a longer text, try using the two interchangeably. Using synonyms helps keep your audience engaged, and you appear more knowledgeable. 

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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