Compliment or Complement?

What Is the Difference between "Compliment" and "Complement"?

"Compliment" and "complement" are easy to confuse because both meanings relate to expressing positivity and they sound so similar (i.e., they are nearly homonyms).


  • "To compliment" means to give praise. For example:
    • I would like to compliment you on your new haircut. correct tick
  • "A compliment" is an expression of praise. For example:
    • She gave me a nice compliment about my painting style. correct tick


  • "To complement" means to enhance. For example:
    • Your new haircut will complement your eyes. correct tick
  • "A complement" is an enhancement. For example:
    • My mother only uses mustard as a complement for mashed potato. correct tick
compliment or complement?

A Short Video Explaining Compliment and Complement

Here is a short video explaining the difference between "compliment" and "complement": video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

More about "Compliment"

As a noun, a "compliment" is an expression of praise. Particularly when used with "my," it is often seen in the plural form "compliments." For example:
  • Please give my compliments to the chef for such a wonderful meal. correct tick
  • When I said your eyes looked misty, I meant that as a compliment. correct tick
  • Tell the cook of this restaurant with my compliments that these are the very worst sandwiches in the whole world, and that, when I ask for a watercress sandwich, I do not mean a loaf with a field in the middle of it. correct tick (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • ("Compliments" means good wishes, regards, or respect.)

More about "Complement"

A "complement" is an enhancement. A "complement" enhances something else or goes well with it. For example:
  • Cranberry sauce is a complement for turkey. correct tick
  • The cashew nuts were an excellent complement for the soup. correct tick
  • (The cashew nuts went well with the soup.)
  • The drums were a perfect complement to their dancing style. correct tick
  • (The drums enhanced their dancing style.)
"Complement" can also mean composition or make-up. (In this meaning, it is often seen in the term "full complement," meaning "the whole number.") For example:
  • Do you have your full complement of men? correct tick

The Verbs "To Compliment" and "To Complement"

The examples above all relate to nouns. However, both words exist as verbs.
  • I would like to compliment the pilot on such a smooth landing. correct tick
  • (I would like to praise the pilot.)
  • The jade and silver cufflinks complement the green tie. correct tick
  • (The jade and silver cufflinks go well with the green tie.)
  • He has worked hard for many years to break my record. I can only complement him for such terrific dedication. wrong cross
  • (This should be "compliment" not "complement.")

Complimentary and Complementary

The adjectives "complimentary" and "complementary" also cause confusion.


"Complimentary" has two meanings. It means expressing praise or free. For example:
  • Her review was extremely complimentary. correct tick
  • (Here, "complimentary" means expressing praise.)
  • All drinks are complimentary. correct tick
  • (Here, "complimentary" means free.)


"Complementary" is used to describe things that combine to enhance an outcome. For example:
  • Our skills were different but complementary. correct tick

Ways to Remember "Compliment" and "Complement"

  • "To compliment" and "to praise" both contain the letter i.
  • "To complement" and "to enhance" both contain two e's.
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.