Compliment or Complement?

The Quick Answer
Compliment or complement?
  • To compliment means to give praise. For example:
    • I would like to compliment you on your new haircut.
  • To complement means to enhance. For example:
    • Your new haircut will complement your eyes.

Compliment and Complement

There is often confusion over the words complement and compliment. They sound similar, but their meanings are very different.

Compliment

A compliment is an expression of praise. For example:
  • My compliments to the chef for such a wonderful meal.
  • When I said your eyes looked misty, I meant that as a compliment.
  • 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. (Oscar Wilde)
  • (Compliments means good wishes, regards, or respect.)

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.
  • The cashew nuts were an excellent complement for the soup.
  • (The cashew nuts went well with the soup.)
  • The drums were a perfect complement to their dancing style.
  • (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?

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.
  • (I would like to praise the pilot.)
  • The jade and silver cufflinks complement the green tie.
  • (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.
  • (This should be compliment not complement.)

Complimentary and Complementary

The adjectives complimentary and complementary also cause confusion.

Complimentary

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

Complementary

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

A Short Video Explaining Compliment and Complement

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose?
Glossary of easily confused words Glossary of common errors Glossary of grammatical terms What are nouns? What are verbs?