Commonly Confused Words: Complement vs. Compliment

by | Aug 11, 2019 | Commonly Confused Words, GrammarSpot | 0 comments

We’re back trying to unravel the complexities of commonly confused words. Do you have trouble correctly using complement vs. compliment (and their related forms)? Do you want to learn more about them so you can show off how smart you are to your Facebook friends? Well then, let us enlighten you!

Complement vs. Compliment at a Glance

  • Complement indicates that something completes or accompanies something else.
  • Compliment is an expression of admiration or praise.
  • Complementary is the adjective of complement.
  • Complimentary is the adjective of compliment. It can also mean free.

When to Use Complement

Complement, which is used as both a verb and a noun,means that a group of things pair well together. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, complement comes from the Latin word for complete. If you consider that some things are incomplete by themselves, then you can better remember the meaning of complement.

Think about how nice shoes complete an ensemble. In this example, the outfit, which is paired with or complemented by the shoes, is not complete without killer footwear.


– A sommelier is trained to know how food and wine complement each other.

– The color of her hair really complements her skin tone.

– An interior designer chose paint that complemented the wood floors.

When to Use Compliment

Are you ready to make your head spin? Compliment, a verb and noun meaning an expression of admiration, also comes from the Latin word meaning complete. Obviously there had to be a close tie to complement, right?

The difference is that compliment used to mean to “complete the obligations of politeness.” So remember, when you are giving a compliment, you are being polite.


– Was that a compliment or a veiled insult?

– I constantly receive compliments on my handmade earrings.

– Jane complimented her mother for being such a great cook.

When to Use Complementary

Complementary is the adjective form of complement, and they both carry the same meaning.


– The complementary characteristics of love and respect make a happy marriage.

– Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are considered complementary.

When to Use Complimentary

Complimentary is the adjective of compliment, so it is also used to express praise. However, complimentary can mean free of charge as well.


– That complimentary remark about my job performance made me blush.

– She was glad that the soda was complimentary because she was out of money.

Still Confused?

If you’re still confused or your long-term memory is bad, then take some ginko biloba and try to keep this in mind:

When something compl-e-ments, it e-nhances.

A compl-i-ment is pra-i-se.

Let us know if there are any clever mnemonic devices you use to remember these commonly confused words. Also, don’t forget to comment below and let us know which words trip you up!

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