Compliment or Complement?

by Craig Shrives

Compliment or Complement?

What is the difference between "compliment" and "complement"?

Compliment
  • "To compliment" means to give praise. For example:
    • I would like to compliment you on your new haircut.
  • "A compliment" is an expression of praise. For example:
    • She gave me a nice compliment about my painting style.
Complement
  • "To complement" means to enhance. For example:
    • Your new haircut will complement your eyes.
  • "A complement" is an enhancement. For example:
    • My mother only uses mustard as a complement for mashed potato.
compliment or complement?

A Short Video Explaining Compliment and Complement

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

Click on the Two Correct Sentences
(Interactive Game)

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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.
  • 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. (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.
  • 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.
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.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

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? cannot or can not? who's or whose?
Glossary of easily confused words Glossary of common errors Glossary of grammatical terms What are nouns? What are verbs?