The words compliment and complement, similar in sound and sight, can both be used as nouns and verbs, and they also have matching adjectives. If the difference between compliment and complement confuses you, or if you're unsure which to use and when, read on.
- Complement is both a noun and a verb. Its adjective form is complementary and it means to complete something, supplement it, or bring it to perfection. For example: Her hairstyle complements the dress she is wearing; A sauce might better complement the chef's vegetable dish; I'm looking for a gallery that is complementary to my art collection; and The coffee table complemented the colours of the dark red couch.
- Compliment is also a noun and a verb. It indicates the offering of praise, gratitude or flattery to another, as does its adjective form, complimentary.
For example: She was pleased by the compliment from her boss; He complimented her on her quick thinking during the meeting; Kindly give my compliments to the chef for a great meal; and The complimentary applause boosted the actors' confidence.
Mnemonic: The word complement has an "e" as in to complete, while compliment has an "i" as in I like.
Bonus: Complimentary can also mean something that is given for free. For example, a hotel may offer complimentary parking and a continental breakfast to its guests (because the hotel "likes" guests).
Choose the correct word in these sentences: 1. I would like to complement/compliment you on your work ethic. 2. Slow-roasted potatoes are a complementary/complimentary side dish to a sirloin steak. 3. These books will compliment/complement his collection. 4. The teacher is always very complimentary/complementary of her hardworking students. 5. He complimented/complemented her on her appearance when picking her up for the date. 6. The honeymooning couple was offered a complimentary/complementary glass of champagne with their dinner.
Answers: 4. complimentary; 6. complimentary; 1. compliment; 3. complement; 2. complementary; 5. complimented
Heather Vlach is an English-language specialist and Intensive Studies educator at International School Bangkok in Nonthaburi. Her email address is email@example.com .