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Commonly Confused Words: Complacent vs. Complaisant

What does each word mean?

Complacent is adjective that describes one who is ‘contended to a fault with oneself or one’s actions.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is complacent used in some example sentences:

  • After getting a few good grades, I became complacent and now I’m at risk of failing the year.
  • Business is down this year – we can’t afford to be complacent.

Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word complacent.

Complaisant is adjective that describes someone who shows ‘a cheerful willingness to do favours for others’.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is complaisant used in an example sentence:

  • We were worried the librarian would be annoyed with us for asking questions but, in fact, she was very complaisant.

Click here to create a Spellzone vocabulary list including the word complaisant.

Where does each word come from?

Both complaisant and complaisant come from the Latin ‘complacere’ which means ‘very pleasing’. Complacent took on the meaning ‘pleased with oneself’ in 1767, but both words were used interchangeably to mean ‘willingness to please’ until the mid-nineteenth century.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

  • Complacent has the word place in it. Think of the act of being complacent as choosing to stay in the same place (due to contentedness or laziness) rather than choosing to improve your situation.

Where can I find other posts about easy-to-confuse words?

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.

15 Mar 2017
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