Complement vs. Compliment: What’s the Difference?

Complement vs. Compliment

Compliment vs complement…

Both of these words often confuse writers.

The words are homophones, or words that sound the same but have different meanings. 

Not only that, they are spelled almost the same, except for that pesky E and I in the middle.

If you want to avoid common writing mistakes, understanding the difference between complement and compliment is critical.

Interestingly, complement and compliment originally had shared meanings. Language is always evolving, and today the two words have different meanings.

So are you paying someone a complement or a compliment? Does that shirt complement or compliment your outfit?

Once you get the meaning down, the complement vs compliment question won't trip you up.

Here's a closer look at the meaning of these commonly confused words and their different meanings with example sentences.

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Table Of Contents

What Does Complement Mean?

When you say something “complements” something else, it completes, enhances, or perfects it.

Complement with an “e” derives comes from the Latin word complēmentum, which means “something that completes.” It's the older of the two terms and originated in the 1300s.

So use complement when writing:

The shirt complemented her eyes.

Complement and its variations also pop up in other scenarios. In math, complementary angles are angles that add up to 90 degrees. They “complement” each other to create a right angle.

In art, complementary colors sit across from each other on the color wheel. Artists know complementing colors work well together. They “complement” each other by enhancing through pleasing contrast.

Similarly, complementary means two things improve each other in some way. For example, cream is complementary to coffee.

What Does Compliment Mean?

When used as a noun, compliment means a word of praise or commendation. When used as a verb, compliment means to express praise or admiration.

Compliment with an “i” comes from the 1600s and the Spanish word cumplimiento. The word also has a base in the Latin word complēmentum, which is one reason the two create so much confusion.

When you pay someone a compliment, you're appreciating something about them or their efforts.

Compliment can also refer to something that you get for free, as in “complimentary.” When you dine in a Mexican restaurant and chips and salsa are served, you have a “complimentary” appetizer.

What Is the Difference Between Complement and Compliment?

Complement and compliment are two different words.

The former is spelt with an E and describes how one thing pairs with another. The latter uses the vowel I and describes praise or appreciation.

Looking for the I or E will help you keep you separate these two commonly confused words.

What's the Difference Between Complementary and Complimentary?

Complementary and complimentary are similar, commonly confused words.

Basically, complimentary, with an I, describes receiving something for free, for example, a complimentary gym pass.

Complementary, with an E, describes two items that go well together, for example, gin and tonic.

As you can see, these words have different meanings.

How Do You Use Complement and Compliment in Sentences?

Now that you have an understanding of the origin of these words in the english language, check out some more examples.

Using Complement as a Noun

Both complement and compliment have noun uses. When used as a noun, complement means “something that completes.” In everyday situations, this might look like:

That wine was the perfect complement to the steak.

The husband and wife had personalities that were the right complement to each other.

The noun use of complement also comes up in science, math, and grammar. In grammar, the predicate of the sentence is the “complement.” This is the part that describes the subject or direct object.

In math, a complement is the angle that, when added to another angle, completes a right angle. In science, the complement system is the series of proteins that circulate in the blood and match antibodies to “complete” them.

In science, the complement system is the series of proteins that circulate in the blood and match antibodies to “complete” them. 

Using Complement as a Verb

Complement is more commonly used as a verb to complete. Consider this example sentence:

The blazer complements her dress nicely.

The man's quiet demeanor complements his wife's outgoing personality nicely.

In each of these, the word complement shows two items complete each other well.

Using Complement as a Modifier

Writers use versions of complement as a modifiers, describing something that pairs with something else. Let's look at these example sentences:

I received a complimentary ticket to the cinema.

Bread and butter are complementary breakfast foods.

Using Compliment as a Noun

When compliment is a noun, it means a statement of praise or admiration. Here are some examples:

He gave his girlfriend a compliment on her new haircut.

The compliment brought a blush to her face.

One common use of the word compliment is in the object of an implied prepositional phrase. Consider this example:

I received a free night's stay compliments of the hotel's owner after finding a roach in my room.

In this sentence, “compliments of the hotel's owner” implies the preposition “with.” It would also be correct to say:

I received a free night's stay with the compliments of the hotel's owner after finding a roach in my room.

Thus, the word “compliments” is a noun used as an object of the implied preposition.

Using Compliment as a Verb

Compliment can also be used as a verb. You can choose to compliment someone by giving them a statement of appreciation.

So saying “I complimented her with a compliment on her hard work” would be grammatically correct, though wordy.

Some examples of compliment used as a verb include:

Compliment your children often, and they will rise to the occasion.

He complimented his employee on a job well done.

The giving of a compliment uses the same word as a verb instead of a noun.

Can Compliment Be Used as a Modifier?

Writers use versions of compliment as modifiers, describing something that's free. You can say:

I enjoyed the complimentary samples at the coffee shop.

In this sentence, the pastries and bites of pasta aren't telling you that you are wearing a nice shirt. They are something you can eat free of charge, making complimentary an adjective describing samples.

The Final Word on Complement vs. Compliment

If you want to connect or complete something, use the word complement. When in doubt, look for the E.

On the other hand, if you're paying someone praise or thanks, or if you're referring to something given for free, use compliment. To remember this, give yourself or another person a compliment.

Say “I am so smart!” Look for the I.

Learning the difference between common homophones and using them correctly is key to becoming a strong writer. If you still need help, consider using a grammar checker.

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Complement vs. Compliment: What’s the Difference?
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