Compliment vs. Complement – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 31, 2017/ Uncategorized

compliment versus complement

What’s the Difference Between Compliment and Complement?

Compliment and complement are homophones, which means that they have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings.

Compliment can be either a verb or noun that relates to praising someone or saying something nice about someone.

  • One friend complimented another’s shoes.

Complement can also be either a noun or a verb. It relates to something that completes another thing, or something that goes well with another thing.

  • Salt is the perfect complement to pepper when making popcorn.

Let’s look at how to use these words in context and avoid mixing the two up.

Using Compliment in a Sentence

When to use compliment: Compliment can act as either a noun or a verb. It means to say something positive about a person’s accomplishments, characteristics, or belongings.

For example:

  • She loved wearing her purple necklace because of all the compliments she received about it. (noun)
  • The boy was shocked when his father complimented his football skills because his father very rarely praised him. (verb)

There are several idioms and expressions that use compliment. For example:

  • a back-handed compliment: to disguise an insult as praise
    • He gave me a back-handed compliment. He said, “You’re very beautiful, for an American woman.”
  • to fish for a compliment: to try to get others to compliment oneself.
    • My father keeps fishing for compliments on his new car. He doesn’t realize everyone thinks the car is hideous and a terrible investment.
  • to pay someone a compliment: to give someone a compliment
    • He’s the most popular manager in the store because he always pays his employees compliments regarding their work.
  • to return a compliment: to compliment a person who complimented you
    • He told me he liked my name, so I returned the compliment by telling him I liked his name as well.

Interestingly, compliment and complement both share a common root. They both derive from a word that meant to complete.

Using Complement in a Sentence

When to use complement: Complement can act as either a noun or a verb. It can mean something that completes or something which pairs nicely with something else.

For example:

  • I think the cool blue color complements the warm yellow color very well. (verb)
  • This rug is a nice complement to the rest of the furniture in the room. It really brings the room together. (noun)

There is one common expression that uses complement:

  • a full complement: a complete set of something
    • If you need any special glasses for your cocktails, we have a full complement of glassware.

This expression is somewhat formal, so it is more common within areas such a hospitality.

Remembering Compliment vs. Complement

The only difference in the spelling of these two words is that of the vowel in the middle of each. Compliment has an i in the middle, whereas complement contains an e in the middle. This spelling difference can act as a helpful mnemonic device.

I like compliments, as do most people. If you like compliments too, try to remember the sentence I like compliments. The subject pronoun I can remind you of the i in the middle of the word compliment.

Additionally, complement starts with the letters comple, just like the word complete. Because complement means to complete, the spelling of these words can help you remember the connection between them.

Outside Examples

  • “I think as a writer it’s the ultimate compliment that your book is so alive we’re still having a conversation about it 200 years later,” Sittenfeld says. “It’s a huge tribute to Jane Austen. It’s fan fiction, an act of homage.” –USA Today
  • “He was very good at identifying positives he saw in other people,” Sweeney said. “He always found something he really liked in every performance. He would compliment others about their performances.” –Chicago Tribune
  • Much of the history of rock can be told through a series of creative partnerships. Collaborators, rather than individuals, are often responsible for the best music. I feel like Spoon’s power as a band rests heavily on your partnership with Jim Eno. How do you complement one another? –New York Daily News
  • Where the Bruery’s rosé-inspired beer is light and tart, the Garage Project take has more wine character layered on top of the crisp pilsner, with floral hop aromas that complement the bright berry character from the grapes. –LA Times

Quiz: Complement vs. Compliment

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either complement or compliment.

  1. Red wine is not a good ________________ to fish.
  2. I always get _____________________ on the color of my eyes but I’m not sure why. I don’t think they’re anything special.
  3. This bread is good, but a little dry. Some butter would serve as an excellent _______________.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use compliment or complement? Despite having the same pronunciation, sharing the same root word, and having almost the same spelling, these words are completely different and cannot be substituted for each other.

  • Compliment is synonymous with praise.
  • Complement means something which completes another or something that goes well with something else.

In short, compliments are something people give to one another to be kind and friendly. Complements are things that naturally go well together.


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