Compliment vs. Complement – How To Distinguish Them

09.11.23 Commonly confused words Time to read: 5min

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Using certain terms incorrectly may impact the quality of your academic paper, as accuracy, clarity, and properly conveying ideas play a key role in the realm of academic writing. Specifically, the words “compliment” and “complement” are very close in spelling and, thus, often mixed up and misused in context. As a result, many may use them interchangeably, although they have entirely different meanings. Find out the distinction between these commonly confused words in this article.

Definition of “compliment vs. complement”

Even though the meanings of “compliment” and “complement” differ significantly, they are among the most commonly misinterpreted words in scientific literature since their spelling differs by only one letter and both words can be used as nouns and verbs.

Compliment

… acts as a verb and noun, conveying admiration, appreciation, or approval.

Complement

… acts as a verb and noun, denoting anything that completes something.

Distinguishing them is difficult, as the words “compliment” and “complement” are homophones but hold distinct meanings. “Compliment” relates to praise or adoration, whereas “complement” refers to something that fulfills or enriches. Both words can be employed as both a noun and a verb.

Using the word “compliment”

A “compliment” refers to “expressing praise or admiration.” The term may be used as both a noun and a verb.

“Compliment” as a noun

In English, the noun “compliment” is grammatically a single, countable noun. When employed as a noun, “compliment” refers to a polite statement of respect, gratitude, or admiration. It is a method of recognizing and acknowledging someone’s traits, actions, or accomplishments.

Examples

  • I received a pleasant compliment on my clothes.
  • Her song received numerous compliments.
  • She couldn’t help but smile as she received the unexpected compliment.

“Compliment” as a verb

When employed as a verb, “compliment” implies someone expressing admiration, praise, or appreciation for someone or something. It is the act of recognizing and appreciating someone’s traits, deeds, or accomplishments. “Compliment” as a verb is usually accompanied by an object, which represents the individual or item being praised.

Examples

  • They compliment her on her amazing singing voice.
  • He compliments his colleague on his outstanding presentation.
  • She compliments him on his dedication and commitment.

Tip for using “compliment” correctly

Using various synonyms for “compliment” in the content you produce can help to avoid redundancy and repetition, and convey your standpoint more diversely. Replacing “compliment” with alternative words may also help to use the word correctly, when in doubt. The following includes three potential alternatives for “compliment” with examples.

Synonyms Examples
Acclaim The actor's performance received extensive compliments from reviewers.
The actor's performance received extensive acclaim from reviewers.
Admiration Her statements reflected her sincere compliment for his talent.
Her statements reflected her sincere admiration for his talent.
To praise The teacher compliments the students on their outstanding achievement in the exam.
The teacher praises the students on their outstanding achievement in the exam.
To appreciate I truly compliment the hard work you contributed.
I truly appreciate the hard work you contributed.

Using the word “complement”

The term “complement” refers to anything that completes or matches well with something else. This word can be used as a noun or a verb.

“Complement” as a noun

“Complement” is a countable noun, which indicates that it can be utilized both singularly and plural. As a noun, “complement” refers to an item that completes or supplements another, making it better or serving as an addition to enhance its meaning. It can also refer to a quantity or amount.

Examples

Item that completes or goes well with something:

  • The black skirt was the ideal complement to the shirt.
  • Their abilities were a tremendous complement to the team.
  • This wine is a wonderful complement to seafood dishes.

Referring to a quantity or number:

  • The plane was operating with a full complement of flight attendants.
  • The orchestra was missing its full complement of violinists.
  • The basketball team arrived with its complete complement of players.

“Complement” as a verb

“Complement” is a transitive verb, meaning that it needs an object to have a complete meaning. The verb implies “to enhance”, “complete”, or “go well with”. The term “complement” typically reflects on an object, describing how it is supported or completed by offering new features or characteristics.

Examples

  • The hat complements his outfit.
  • In this dish, the spices complement each other.
  • His talents complement her strengths.

Tip for using “complement” correctly

Employing several synonyms for “complement” in your text may assist in alternating to reduce repetition and redundancy, and explain the argument’s point on a deeper level. Below are three possible alternative words for “complement” respective with example sentences.

Synonyms Examples
Accompaniment The violin is a lovely complement to the piano tune.
The violin is a lovely accompaniment to the piano tune.
Set The football team arrived with its full complement of players.
The football team arrived with its full set of players.
To complete The twins complement each other's sentences.
The twins complete each other's sentences.
To perfect His perseverance complements their collective efforts
His perseverance perfect their collective efforts

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

Fill in the blanks of the 10 phrases to see how well you understand the difference between “compliment” and “complement.” You may then verify your understanding by looking up the correct answers in the following tab.

  1. She received a nice ________ on her new hairdo.
  2. The painting’s shades are an ideal ________ for the room’s design.
  3. His warm remarks were a wonderful ________ to her efforts.
  4. The red wine ________ the steak entrée perfectly.
  5. They ________ her for her immaculate sense of style.
  6. The dish’s sweet and sour tastes ____________ one another.
  7. He was ___________ for his excellent customer service.
  8. The use of a strong typeface ____________ the website’s current style.
  9. The orchestra arrived with its entire ________ of pianists.
  10. The quiet music in the background ___________ the restaurant’s atmosphere.
  1. She received a nice compliment on her new hairdo.
  2. The painting’s shades are an ideal complement for the room’s design.
  3. His warm remarks were a wonderful compliment to her efforts.
  4. The red wine complemented the steak entrée perfectly.
  5. They complimented her for her immaculate sense of style.
  6. The dish’s sweet and sour tastes complement one another.
  7. He was complimented for his excellent customer service.
  8. The use of a strong typeface complements the website’s current style.
  9. The orchestra arrived with its entire complement of pianists.
  10. The quiet music in the background complements the restaurant’s atmosphere.
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FAQs

A “compliment” is a statement of appreciation or praise for someone or something. The term “complement” refers to something that enriches, completes, or complements something else.

Example of “complement”:

The sauce is a perfect complement to plain rice.

 

Example of “compliment”:

I got a compliment on my new jacket today.

The correct phrase is “compliment of the season,” referring to best wishes at Christmas and on the new year.

“Compliment” can act as a verb and as a noun, meaning it is integrated differently in sentences depending on the context that is aimed to be conveyed.

As a verb:

The company complimented her on her hard work this year.

 

As a noun:

She received many compliments regarding her hard work this year.