Compliment vs Complement

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

'Compliment' and 'complement' often cause confusion because not only do they sound alike, but they perform similar functions in a sentence. This lesson will explain how to correctly use both 'compliment' and 'complement' as both a noun and a verb.

Compliments and Complements

'I want to compliment you on how well that purse complements your dress.'

Was that sentence confusing? If so, it is probably because, like a lot of people, you get confused by the difference between 'compliment' and 'complement.' These words are homonyms, meaning they sound alike but have different meanings. And they are even trickier than many homonyms because they also do the same jobs in a sentence, which is known as their parts of speech.

Both 'compliment' and 'complement' can be a noun, the part of speech that means any word that refers to a person, place, or thing. They can also both be a verb, or action word. So, how do you know which one to use where? Let's find out in this lesson.

A thumbs up is an example of a compliment.
Thumbs Up

My Compliments

The first 'compliment,' with an 'i,' refers to giving praise or expressing admiration for someone or something. In its noun form, it refers to the actual things someone says to express that praise or admiration, as in these examples:

  • Give my compliments to the chef on this delicious meal.
  • The bride received many compliments on her beautiful dress.
  • Jan gave me a huge compliment on my presentation yesterday.

The verb form is closely related, and simply refers to the actual act of giving a compliment:

  • So many people have complimented me on my new promotion.
  • I must compliment you on your beautiful home.
  • George complimented me on the dinner I made last night.

A nice watch can really complement an outfit.

A Perfect Complement

'Complement,' with an 'e,' also has noun and verb forms that are closely related. In its noun form, 'complement' refers to a thing that is added that brings something to perfection, as in these examples:

  • The onion was the perfect complement to the beef in the stew.
  • The music was a complement to the great food and conversation at the party.
  • In this film, the supporting character acts as a complement to the star.

As a noun, it can also refer to having the number or quantity of something that makes it complete:

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