Compliment vs. Complement: How to Use Complement vs. Compliment

Compliment and complement are two words that are often confused with each other. While they may sound similar, they have different meanings and uses. Understanding the difference between these two words can help you communicate more effectively and avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Compliment vs. Complement: Understanding the Differences 

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Key Takeaways 

These words can be used as both nouns and verbs, but their meaning doesn’t really change. A compliment is “a polite expression of praise or admiration”, while a complement is “a thing that contributes extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasize its quality”. Basically, you get a compliment when you’re pretty, but a complement makes you be even prettier.

The Definitions

Compliment

compliment is an expression of praise, admiration, or encouragement. It is commonly used in the context of personal interactions where one person expresses positive sentiments towards another. For instance:

  • She received a compliment on her eloquent speech.

Complement

In contrast, a complement refers to something that completes or enhances something else to perfection or near perfection. This term often appears in both tangible and abstract contexts. Examples include:

  • The fine wine was a perfect complement to the gourmet cheese plate.

Usage in Language 

When to Use Compliment

You use compliment when talking about praise. It can be used as a noun or as a verb.

Examples:

  • I would like to get a compliment from time to time.
  • She loves it when I compliment her.

When to Use Complement

You use complement when talking about enhancing features. It can be used as a noun or as a verb.

Examples:

  • That dress really does complement her eyes.
  • Salad is the perfect complement to fries.

Tips for the Differences between Compliment vs. Complement

To differentiate these two words, let’s look at their spelling. One is spelled with an i, the other with an e. Remembering the right word is quite simple, the i has a strict diet and is more fit, so it gets more compliments than the e.

Related Confused Words with Compliment or Complement

In the English language, similar-sounding words often lead to confusion. One pair in particular, “compliment” and “complementary”, has nuances that are important to distinguish.

Compliment vs. Complimentary

Compliment as a noun signifies an expression of praise or admiration. When used as a verb, it means to offer praise or express admiration. For example:

  • She received a compliment on her thorough report.
  • He complimented the team on their successful project launch.

Complimentary, on the other hand, is an adjective that pertains to giving praise or as a free bonus. It can be related to the act of giving compliments or refer to something that is provided at no charge, often as part of a service. Instances include:

  • The hotel provided complimentary breakfast to all its guests.
  • The reviews were complimentary about the newly released book.

Compliment vs. Admiration

One word that is often confused with “compliment” is “admiration.” While both words express positive sentiments, they are used in different ways.

“Compliment” is typically used to express praise or admiration for a specific quality or action. For example, you might compliment someone on their outfit or their cooking skills. On the other hand, “admiration” is a more general expression of respect or appreciation. You might admire someone for their hard work or their dedication to a cause.

To help you remember the difference, think of “compliment” as something you give to someone for a specific reason, while “admiration” is a more general feeling you have towards someone.

Examples in Language

This section provides specific instances of how “compliment” and “complement” are correctly used in sentences, illustrating their distinct meanings and proper context.

Compliment Usage Examples

  • When used as a verb:
    • She complimented his work ethic, acknowledging his dedication.
    • He complimented her on her eloquent speech, expressing his admiration.
  • When used as a noun:
    • His kind words were a sincere compliment to her cooking skills.
    • The awards ceremony was full of compliments for the outstanding performers.

Complement Usage Examples

  • When used as a verb:
    • The scarf complements her outfit, adding just the right touch of color.
    • A well-chosen wine can complement a meal, enhancing its flavors.
  • When used as a noun:
    • The excellent service was the perfect complement to the wonderful dining experience.
    • Expertise in design is an essential complement to engineering in product development.

Real-word Exercises

Compliment or complement?

  1. Your shoes __________ your outfit very well. (Compliment/Complement)
  2. The teacher’s __________ about my essay boosted my confidence. (Compliment/Complement)
  3. A cool breeze would be a perfect __________ to the evening. (Compliment/Complement)
  4. The chef said that the herbs would __________ the flavors of the fish. (Compliment/Complement)
  5. I received many __________ on my presentation at the conference. (Compliment/Complement)
  6. His sense of humor is a great __________ to her serious nature. (Compliment/Complement)
  7. The colorful throw pillows __________ the neutral color of the couch. (Compliment/Complement)
  8. After the performance, she was showered with __________ from the audience. (Compliment/Complement)
  9. The subtle lighting in the restaurant __________ the ambiance. (Compliment/Complement)
  10. It’s always nice to __________ someone when they’ve made an effort to look good. (Compliment/Complement)

Answer 

  1. Complement
  2. Compliment
  3. Complement
  4. Complement
  5. Compliments
  6. Complement
  7. Complement
  8. Compliments
  9. Complements
  10. Compliment

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between “complement” and “compliment”?
Complement with an “e” refers to something that completes or enhances something else. It can be used as both a noun and a verb. For instance, “The curtains are a perfect complement to the room’s decor.”
Compliment with an “i”, on the other hand, pertains to expressing praise or admiration and can also be utilized as a noun or verb, as in “She received a compliment on her eloquent speech.”

Can “complement” and “compliment” be used interchangeably?
No, they cannot. Each word has a distinct meaning and usage in the context of a sentence.

Is the pronunciation of “complement” and “compliment” the same?
Yes, they are homophones, meaning they are pronounced the same way but have different meanings and spellings.

Term Part of Speech Meaning
Complement Noun/Verb Something that completes or enhances when added
Compliment Noun/Verb An expression of praise, admiration, or congratulation

How can one remember the distinction between the two words?
One could associate the “e” in “complement” with “enhance,” since both words imply addition or completion. Similarly, linking the “i” in “compliment” with “I” could help one recall its connection to words of praise directed at individuals.

Are “complement” and “compliment” commonly confused in English?
They are indeed often confused due to their similar spellings and pronunciation. However, careful consideration of their definitions and contexts can prevent misuse.

Last Updated on December 6, 2023

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