compliment vs. complement  

What is the difference between compliment and complement?

These two words have the same pronunciation—/ˈkɒmpləmənt/—but they have very different meanings. The more common of the two, compliment, is usually a noun meaning “a remark, expression, or gesture of respect, praise, commendation, or admiration.” It can also be used as a verb meaning “to make such a remark, expression, or gesture.” For example:
  • “One of my students gave me the nicest compliment today.”
  • “I would like to compliment you on your recent charity work!”
Complement, on the other hand, generally refers to something that completes, improves, or perfects something else. Like compliment, it can also function as a verb to describe the act of completing, improving, or perfecting something. For example:
  • “Sweet flavors are often a great complement to spicy foods.”
  • “The new manager position will act as a complement to your existing role.”
  • “The company started by developing software, but that division now merely complements their lucrative hardware business.”
(Complement also has a few other specific meanings that extend from this basic definition, such as “an angle related to another such that their sum is equal to 90°”; the quantity or amount that fills or completes something; and, in grammar, “a word or group of words necessary to complete the meaning of another part of a sentence.”)

Spelling Tricks and Tips

Although compliment is the more common word, be careful not to use it in situations in which complement is the correct spelling. Remember, a complement completes something else, which is why it is spelled with an E.

1. Choose the sentence in which compliment is the correct spelling.

2. Choose the sentence in which complement is the correct spelling.

Get all volumes of The Farlex Grammar Book in paperback or eBook.
Share Tweet