Commonly Confused Words: Complement vs. Compliment

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What does each word mean?

A complement is something that is added to another thing in order to complete it or make it perfect. The word can also be used as a verb to describe the act of completing or perfecting one thing by adding something else to it.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of complement.

Here is complement used in some example sentences:

  • Do you think the colours green and pink complement each other? 
  • My new handbag will complement my shoes nicely. 
  • This wine is the perfect complement for our dinner.

compliment is a remark or action that expresses praise and admiration. The word can also be used to describe the act of praising someone. 

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

Here is compliment used in some example sentences:

  •  It was an enormous compliment that they attended our party.
  • The teacher complimented the student for her improvement in spelling. 
  • complemented her work on the project. 


Where does each word come from?

Both complement and compliment come from the Latin ‘complementum’, from ‘complere’ meaning ‘fill up’.

Complement dates back to the late fourteenth century when it meant ‘that which completes’ or ‘what is needed to complete or fill up’. It took on the meaning ‘expression of respect or regard’ in the sixteenth century and the spelling of this meaning of the word changed to compliment in the seventeenth century. By the nineteenth century the meaning of compliment had extended to ‘expression of praise or admiration’. 


Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between complement and compliment?

  • Remember that a complement completes something. 
  • Think of the phrase ‘We complement each other’ to help you remember complement is spelt with an e.
  • Think of ‘giving compliments’ to help you remember compliment is spelt with an i.


What words do you constantly mix up? Let us know and we’ll cover them in our Commonly Confused Words series.


03 Feb 2020
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