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Your Quick Guide to "Complement" vs. "Compliment"

Do you compliment your friend on her beautiful jacket? Or do you complement her?

Complement and compliment are two words in the English language that are often confused yet carry two distinctly different meanings. The difference in spelling between the two is only a matter of one letter, so that makes it even more difficult to know which is which.

However, there are a few tricks to help distinguish between which of the two is correct to use in a certain context. Let's review their meanings now and help clear up the confusion for you.


The easiest trick to remember the meaning of complement is to think of a very similar word, "complete." Merriam-Webster defines complement as something that fills up, completes, or makes better or perfect.

In grammar, a complement is a word, phrase or clause that is required to complete the meaning of a given expression. For example, consider the following sentence: "That house is old." If we look at the grammatical construction of the sentence, we'd see that "house" is the subject and "old" is the subject complement. Basically, "old" is the word that completes the idea and meaning of the sentence.

Here are some other examples of the word complement (in its various forms) used correctly in context:

  • That shirt complements the color of your eyes.
  • The couple dressed in matching, complementary colors.
  • The new tagline complements the headline perfectly.


Now, let's look at the alternative: compliment. Merriam-Webster defines compliment as an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration; an admiring remark : formal and respectful recognition : honor

It's important to realize that compliment can be used as a noun or a verb, but retains essentially the same meaning in both contexts. Complimenting (verb) someone on their outfit is the same idea as giving someone a compliment (noun) for their clothing choice.

Here are a few additional examples of compliment used in context:

  • I always blush when someone compliments me.
  • He was a very nice person and gave many compliments to those around him.
  • Thanks for the compliment, it gave me confidence.

And since complimenting someone is a wonderful act of kindness, just for fun, here is a list of 100 compliments that will make someone smile today.

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