Compliment: an expression of praise. For example, "Her friends all complimented her on her taste in music."
Complement: something that completes or perfects. For example, "The pillow he bought was the perfect complement to the couch."
A Closer Look
When you told your friend that you liked her hairstyle, did you complement her or compliment her? These two tricky words are so similar in both spelling and pronunciation, it's easy to get confused about when to use compliment vs. complement.
Unsurprisingly, both words actually derive from the same Latin word, complementum, which means "completion or fulfilment." The word complement retained the same meaning as its Latin roots. However, the word compliment evolved in other languages, such as Italian (complimento) and French (compliment), to refer to an expression of praise. It was adopted into English in the mid-17th century.
A compliment is a polite expression of praise or admiration. It can be used as a noun or a verb and has several different variations. Let's look at some examples.
Noun: When John told her she had beautiful eyes, she blushed at the compliment.
Verb: She responded by complimenting his tie.
Noun: Once everyone at the table finished the delicious meal, they all asked the waiter to send their compliments to the chef.
In each of these examples, people are exchanging words of praise or admiration (i.e., compliments).
The word complement is a little trickier and is less commonly used. A complement is something that contributes extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasize its quality—a complement completes. Like compliment, it can also be a noun or a verb. Let's look at some examples:
Noun: Peanut butter is the perfect complement to strawberry jelly.
This example states that peanut butter enhances the taste of strawberry jelly; they are better together than they are alone.
Verb: Their business partnership worked so well because his impulsive nature complemented her analytical personality.
In the above example, the business partners are a good team because their different personalities work together to form a perfect skill set to run their business. They balance and enhance—or complement—each other.
Never confuse compliment vs. complement again
Now you can confidently compliment someone on a hat that complements their shoes! Even so, to avoid inadvertently mixing up compliment vs. complement in your writing, be sure to have it reviewed by a proofreader. This will ensure you have used these and other commonly confused words correctly, every time.
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