“compliment” versus “complement”

Homophones: compliment vs. complement.

Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Sometimes, they’re also spelled differently: compliment vs. complement.

Since homophones sound the same, they are often misspelled. Sometimes they’re misspelled because the writer doesn’t know there are two different spellings. In other cases, misspelled homophones are the result of typing too fast or failing to proofread carefully.

Spell check will not catch these typos because the spelling is legitimate, even if it’s for a word with a different meaning.

To make it easier to remember which spelling goes with which meaning, we can use mnemonic devices, which are memory tricks. Today, we’re going to learn how to remember the difference between the homophones compliment and complement.

Compliment vs. Complement

The meanings of these two words are fairly similar. However, there is a difference.


Compliment can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it indicates an expression of admiration, a formal act of regard, or good wishes. When you pay someone a compliment, you say something nice about them. To send someone your compliments is to send your regards.

As a verb, compliment simply means the act of offering a compliment. You might compliment someone’s clothes or hair. An act of kindness can also be expressed with the verb compliment: She complimented you by buying one of your books.


Like its homophone, complement can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it indicates something that completes, enhances, or perfects another thing. You can use complement for things that go well together:

  • Root beer complements pizza.
  • It can also mean a full quantity:
  • There is a full complement of passengers on the plane.
  • As a verb, complement is simply the action form of the noun: Root beer really complements this pizza (goes well with).

Be aware that complement has many other related but more detailed definitions that are industry- or field-specific. These are applied in areas of grammar, mathematics, music, and medicine.

Mnemonic Tips for Remembering the Homophones Compliment vs. Complement

The only difference between the spelling of the words compliment and complement is that one has the letter i in the middle and the other has the letter e in the middle. So, all you have to do is figure out whether you need an i or an e.

The opposite of a compliment is an insult. Since insult starts with the letter i, ask whether the opposite is an insult. If it is, then you should use the spelling c-o-m-p-l-i-m-e-n-t.

When one thing complements another, it usually enhances it in some way. It makes the other thing even better. You know that enhance starts with an e, so just remember that if one thing enhances another, it complements it (with an e) and you should use the spelling c-o-m-p-l-e-m-e-n-t..

Got Homophones?

Homophones can be confusing, but by using mnemonic devices, it’s pretty easy to remember which spelling to use. Do homophones ever give you headaches? Are there any specific homophones that either confuse you or annoy you when you see them misspelled? Do you have any tricks for remembering compliment vs. complement? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

And keep writing!

Compliment vs. Complement – What Is the Difference? (with Illustrations and Examples)

What is the difference?

Compliment and complement are two very similar words in the English language. Sometimes even native speakers mix them up. How do you know when to use each one?

The two words are pronounced in the exact same way, and there is only a small difference in their spellings.

Despite these similarities, the meanings of the two words are not related! One is used to offer praise, and the other means that something goes well with something else.

Understanding the difference between the two words is important, because if you confuse them it's considered quite a basic spelling mistake.

Let's look at some examples to help you learn the distinction.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses


The word compliment is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, compliment means praise, an expression of admiration, or more simply, something nice you say to someone.

As a verb, compliment has the same meaning. To compliment means to praise, to express admiration, or to say something nice to someone. Both the noun and verb forms of the word are equally common.

It is typical to make compliments about appearance, clothing, effort, intelligence and humor.

Common compliments

Difference between COMPLIMENT and COMPLEMENT

This is a free sample from the e-book  600+ Confusing English Words Explained. It will help clear up your doubts about how to use English words correctly, so that you can speak and write more confidently.

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These two words are pronounced the same, but they are spelled differently and have different meanings.

COMPLIMENT (noun, verb)

Compliment can be both a noun and a verb. A compliment is a positive comment about someone or something, for example: “You have beautiful eyes!”

And the verb compliment (or the expression “pay someone a compliment”) means to make a positive comment:

  • He complimented me on my web design skills.
  • He paid me a compliment on my web design skills.


The adjective complimentary means “free”:

  • At this hotel, breakfast is complimentary.
  • You get a complimentary cookie when you order coffee at that café.

COMPLEMENT (noun, verb)

Complement can also be a noun or a verb. If two things complement each other, it means they go well together; they make each other appear better.

  • That necklace is the perfect complement to your outfit.
    (complement = noun)
  • My business partner and I really complement each other. We make a good team.
    (complement = verb)

The adjective complementary means that two things are different, but go together well – you could say:

  • My business partner and I have complementary skills.

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Compliment vs. Complement – How to Use Each Correctly

What’s the Difference Between Compliment and Complement?

Compliment and complement are homophones, which means that they have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings.

Compliment can be either a verb or noun that relates to praising someone or saying something nice about someone.

  • One friend complimented another’s shoes.

Complement can also be either a noun or a verb. It relates to something that completes another thing, or something that goes well with another thing.

  • Salt is the perfect complement to pepper when making popcorn.
See also:  Weather or whether

Let’s look at how to use these words in context and avoid mixing the two up.

Using Compliment in a Sentence

When to use compliment: Compliment can act as either a noun or a verb. It means to say something positive about a person’s accomplishments, characteristics, or belongings.

For example:

  • She loved wearing her purple necklace because of all the compliments she received about it. (noun)
  • The boy was shocked when his father complimented his football skills because his father very rarely praised him. (verb)

There are several idioms and expressions that use compliment. For example:

  • a back-handed compliment: to disguise an insult as praise
    • He gave me a back-handed compliment. He said, “You’re very beautiful, for an American woman.”
  • to fish for a compliment: to try to get others to compliment oneself.
    • My father keeps fishing for compliments on his new car. He doesn’t realize everyone thinks the car is hideous and a terrible investment.
  • to pay someone a compliment: to give someone a compliment
    • He’s the most popular manager in the store because he always pays his employees compliments regarding their work.
  • Compliment vs Complement – The Correct Way to Use Each

    Compliment and complement are homophones, so they are pronounced the same, but have different spellings and meanings.

    • A compliment is something nice you say to or about someone.
      • Sam paid Mary a lovely compliment about her sweater.
    • A complement is something that enhances something else or makes it better.
      • The red wine was a lovely complement to the gourmet dinner.

    Both words can be used as either a noun or a verb.

    How to Use Compliment in a Sentence

    Compliment definition: As a noun, compliment is a nice thing you say to or about someone.

    For example,

    • Mark gave a sue a compliment on her new haircut, and it made her blush. (noun)

    As a verb, compliment means to praise someone or show admiration.

    • One way to make someone’s day is to compliment them. (verb)
    • The chicken dish and the wine complement one another nicely. (verb)

    How to Use Complement in a Sentence

    Complement definition: As a noun, complement refers to something that enhances, improves or makes something else better.

    For example,

    • The sound of the trumpet was a beautiful complement to the orchestra. (noun)

    As a verb, it refers to something that is enhancing or improving something else.

    • The blue shirt Noel was wearing really complemented her eyes. (verb)
    • Virginia always tried to get along well with her co-workers, so she decided to compliment Mary on her new sweater. (verb)

    Compliment vs Complement

    I had an email at work recently which read “This new software will compliment the existing system.” Can you spot what’s wrong with that sentence?

    If you get confused by the difference between compliment and complement, or if you’re unsure which to use when, read on.


    Merriam-Webster defines a compliment as “an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration; especially : an admiring remark”. It comes from Middle French, via the Italian complimento, and the Spanish cumplimiento, which originates from the Latin verb cumplir: to be courteous.

    For example:

    • I was trying to pay that girl a compliment, but she ignored me.
    • Sometimes he blushes when you offer him a compliment.

    In the plural, compliments can also mean best wishes. It is often used as “with compliments” such as on a compliments slip (a small piece of letter-headed paper, often used by companies for a quick note to a customer or client when a full sheet would be too large.) You also see the phrase “with compliments of the season” in greetings cards.

    The verb “to compliment” is very similar, meaning “to pay a compliment to”. Note that it is a transitive verb so must have an object. For example:

    • Are you trying to compliment me, or trying to insult me?
    • When he complimented the girl on her dress, his friends laughed at him.


    The adjective complimentary is closely related to the word compliment, and in this context it can mean either “expressing or containing a compliment” or “favourable” (Merriam-Webster):

    • My mother made some very complimentary remarks about my choice of shoes.
    • The new restaurant has a very complimentary write-up in the local newspaper.

    Complimentary also has the meaning “free”, when something is given as a courtesy or favour:

    • Please accept these complimentary tickets.
    • I thought that the mini-bar was complimentary, but we were charged for our drinks.


    The word complement comes from the same root as complete. It has nothing to do with being courteous, and comes directly from Middle English, from the Latin word complementum.

    Merriam-Webster’s first definition is “something that fills up, completes, or makes perfect”, and it can also be used to mean “the quantity, number, or assortment required to make a thing complete”, though can sound a little odd or old-fashioned in this context:

    • We had the full complement of pots and pans.
    • Our store does not have enough employees to work the required complement of hours.

    Complement is often used in scientific, technical or academic areas of discourse, where the complement of X supplies what X is missing, thus making a complete whole. Examples of this usage are:

    • Complement good (economics)
    • Complementary colour (art)

    You can find a fuller list in Wikipedia’s entry for the term Complement.

    In everyday writing, complement is more often used as a verb. Again, it is a transitive verb:

    • The illustrations complement the text.
    • Our new software will complement the existing product.

    So, my email correspondent should have written that “This new software will complement the existing system.” But I suspect she wouldn’t have replied to compliment me if I’d written back to point out the mistake…

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    Compliment vs. Complement: What’s the Difference?

    Compliment and complement are right alongside other English homophones such as there, their, and they’re and to, too, and two.

    Homophones are words that, despite sounding identical, actually have different meanings.

    The two words compliment vs. complement are especially tricky, however, because they are long words and the only spelling difference between them is one little vowel tucked in the middle. One word is spelled with an “e” and the other is spelled with an “i.”

    What is the Difference Between Compliment and Complement?

    In this post, I will outline the differences and definitions of these two words. I will go over the functions of each word and use example sentences to show how they are used in real-life sentences from newspaper outlets and print journals.

    After reading this post, you shouldn’t ever second guess yourself by saying, “Should I use compliment or complement?”

    When to Use Compliment

    What does compliment mean? Compliment can function as both a noun and a verb.

    When used as a noun, a compliment is a flattering or praising remark.

    • Your friend gave me a nice compliment yesterday. (Noun)
    • The remarks you gave are a tremendous compliment. (Noun)
    • Just a month ago, Apple paid Microsoft a high compliment by seeming to have copied the device with its new iPad Pro. –The New Yorker

    When used as a verb, to compliment means to praise or to express esteem. For example,

    • I tried to compliment his outfit, but he was busy talking. (Verb)
    • Your friend complimented my hair yesterday. (Verb)
    • Mattingly was often complimented by club officials, but he has not been identified as the team’s leader for the foreseeable future. –L.A. Times

    When to Use Complement

    What does complement mean? Complement can also function as both a noun and a verb. It denotes completeness or the process of supplementing something.

    When used as a noun, a complement is something that completes or brings to perfection.

    • Dressing is an expected complement of salad. (Noun)
    • That shirt is a perfect complement for those pants. (Noun)
    • We have a lot of celebrities who flaunt their hourglass figures, and the corset really is a complement to that figure. –The New York Times

    When used as a verb, to complement means to supplement adequately or to complete. For example,

    • That shirt really complements your eyes. (Verb)
    • This sauce complements the natural flavors of the meat. (Verb)
    • In any given space you want a mix of patterns, textures and colors that complement each other but that don’t look too matchy. –The Washington Post

    Tricks to Remember the Difference

    Don’t think you will be able to remember all of this next time you are picking between complement vs. compliment? Here’s a useful mnemonic that will be able to help you through those times of indecision.

    A good way to remember the difference between these two words is to remember that “I” make compliments to other people. “I” make compliments about people’s clothes and compliment has an “i” in it.


    So is it complement or compliment? That, of course, depends on the context of your sentence. Each word has is own purpose and function.

    • A complement is something that completes something else or brings it to perfection.
    • A compliment is a polite expression of praise or admiration.
    • http://writingexplained/affect-vs-effect

    "Compliment" vs. "Complement": How To Pick The Right Word

    Compliment and complement are commonly confused terms because they’re pronounced alike and originally shared some meanings.

    But over time, they’ve become separate words with entirely different definitions.

    What does complement mean?

    Complement with an E is the older of the two terms. Its noun sense has been around in English since the 1300s.

    The term derives from the Latin complēmentum, meaning “something that completes.” So, that means if something complements something else, it completes it, enhances it, or makes it perfect.

    A shirt can complement the color of someone’s eyes, or a wine can complement a meal. When we talk about complementary angles, or complementary colors, it’s this sense of complement that is being used.

    Complementary angles are two angles that add up to produce a 90° angle.

    Complementary colors are colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel, and they enhance each other by their contrast, such as red and green, purple and yellow, and blue and orange.

    What does compliment mean?

    Compliment with an I is from the mid-1600s. It came to English from the Spanish cumplimiento. But, the real confusion comes from the fact that compliment (with an I) ultimately derives from the same Latin root as complement (with an E), complēmentum, and that accounts for some of the early overlap in meaning.

    The noun form of compliment means “an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration,” and the verb means, “to praise or express admiration for someone.”

    You can pay someone a compliment, or compliment someone on a job well done. People sometimes use the phrase compliments to the chef after enjoying a good meal.

    Something that is complimentary is free, for examples, airlines offer complimentary sodas on flights.

    So how do you keep these two straight? Just remember that if something complements something, it completes it.

    How to Use Complement and Compliment Correctly

    Complement and compliment are list-toppers in the world of commonly confused words.

    Do you pay someone a compliment? Or do you complement them on their new dress? (The correct answer to both those questions is “compliment.

    “) If you're wondering how to use complement and compliment correctly, buckle up. Let's take a closer look at how to tell the difference between the two and how to use each word correctly.

    Before we get into how to use these words correctly, let's discuss what they are. Complement and compliment are homophones. They sound the same, but have distinctly different meanings and spellings.


    Complement, when used as a noun, means something makes another thing complete. Here's an example sentence:

    These red shoes are a great complement to my lace dress.

    When used as a verb, to complement means to make something complete. Here's another sentence:

    These shoes complement my entire look.


    Compliment, when used as a noun, represents the act of giving praise. Here's an example sentence:

    He offered a kind compliment to the chef of the restaurant.

    When used as a verb, to compliment means to give praise. For example:

    He will always compliment her when she brings home a great report card.

    These two words are often misspelled not because we've confused the letter arrangement, but because we've used the wrong form. Check out these 100 most often misspelled words in English. Sometimes, they're misspelled because they don't follow conventional spelling rules. Other times, they're misspelled because we've chosen the wrong form.

    Complement with an “e” has to do with completion. Either one thing is a completion of another thing, or one thing is actively completing another. Whether in its noun or verb form, it's always about completion.

    One way to remember the difference is to consider the common letters here. To complEment something is to complEte something. Here are some sample sentences:

    • Mott's apple juice is a good complement to this grilled cheese sandwich.
    • This buttery yellow paint will complement the white lace curtains.
    • I can't get over how much David and Marie complement each other.
    • Do you think the white tulip complements this flower arrangement?
    • The assorted olives are complements to our cheese selection.

    Example Sentences With Compliment

    Meanwhile, compliment with an “i” is all about praise. You can offer a compliment (noun) or actively compliment someone (verb). One way to remember the difference is to consider that compliment with the letter “i” means praise, as in “I” give a compliment.

    Let's walk through some example sentences. It'll drive the point home and complement your grammar skills.

    • Did he just compliment her handwriting?

    What is the Difference Between Compliment and Complement?

    Compliment vs. Complement

    The confusion between these two words is so common! There are a few of reasons for this:

    1. The words are one letter off, so it could just be a spelling mistake.
    2. Both can be a noun or a verb
    3. These two words SEEM similar in meaning because they both have positive connotations, but they are actually quite different.

    So, let’s take a look at these and tease out the nuances of both.



    As a verb, this means “to say something nice about another” (as a noun, it is the nice thing that is said). Some examples would be:

    • Your new haircut really suits you.
    • The work Suzahn did on that project was stellar.
    • John is such a hard worker.

    All of these sentences contain compliments, to you, Suzahn, and John, respectively.

    The adjective form is “complimentary.” An example would be:

    • People who are overly complimentary often seem insincere. (These people say a lot of nice things directly to the people they are about.)



    As a verb, this means “to enhance, make complete, or accompany” (and, as a noun, it is the thing enhancing, completing, or accompanying). Some examples would be:

    • Cinnamon is an excellent complement to apples. (Cinnamon enhances apples.)
    • John’s ability to look at the big picture really complements Suzahn’s attention to details. (John’s abilities complete Suzahn’s, and vice versa)

    And, the adjective form is “complementary”, as shown here:

    • Blue and orange are complementary colors. (They complete and enhance each other.)

    As you can see, these are really quite different in meaning!

    Complement vs. compliment

    To complement is to complete something, supplement it, enhance it, or bring it to perfection.

    For example, your shoes may complement your dress, you and your spouse may complement each other, or minced garlic may complement a pasta dish. To compliment is to give praise.

    For example, if I were to say that you have a very nice turtle, this would be a compliment to both you and your turtle. Both words also work as nouns whose meanings are easily inferred from the verb senses.

    A corresponding distinction applies to the adjectives complementary and complimentary. Complementary things complete, supplement, or bring to perfection.

    Complimentary means laudatory, and it also has a second, tangential sense: given free or as a courtesy. The coffee in the hotel lobby, for instance, is complimentary.

    As a verb, compliment occasionally appears in the corresponding sense to give free.

    Complement has a secondary, seldom-used noun sense: a full crew of personnel, especially on a ship.


    In these examples, complement means to complete, supplement, or bring to perfection, or denotes something that does this:

    • Too often I let academics intrude on my process, rather than complement it. [readwritepoem]
    • Sea trout is a beautiful fish with an earthiness that is complemented by citrus flavours. [Guardian]
    • The Bit and Spur’s food is a pretty sweet complement to the beer, but it ain’t on the cheap side. [Nile Guide]

    Here, compliment refers to giving praise or an instance of giving praise:

    A man she’d been out with three times complimented her for being “an amazing combination of fun, attractive and smart.” [Stuff.co.nz]

    “A typical Rutgers-Seton Hall game,” Hill said afterward, meaning it as a compliment. [NorthJersey.com]

    I say as much to Keith, complimenting Sandy on how well he managed working with a piano player with a strong left-hand. [Telegraph]

    Here are a few examples of the adjectives, complementary and complimentary, put to use:

    1. Words such as amazing, wonderful, hard-working and giving were among the many complimentary words used to describe Davidson. [Lexington Dispatch]
    2. Dorothy Cross’s Montenotte and Fountainstown are two complementary volumes of a fascinating publication. [Irish Times]
    3. A club lounge and complimentary glass of champagne on arrival no longer cut it for the time poor travelling business person. [The Age]

    Finally, complement also bears the rarely used sense a full crew of personnel, as in this example:

    The Raps have a full complement of solid starters and role players. [Rufus on Fire]

    Learn English: Compliment or complement?

    Do you know the difference between 'compliment' and 'complement'? Let's take a closer look at these similar words.

    'Compliment' and 'complement' are sometimes confused because they are pronounced in the same way. But although they sound the same, they have very different meanings. 

    We can use 'compliment' as a verb. If you 'compliment' someone you express admiration, or say something nice about them.

    “We complimented the chef on the delicious dessert.”

    The noun 'compliment' is an expression of praise or admiration. 

    “I took it as a compliment when she said my accent was unusual.”

    You might hear the phrase 'to pay someone a compliment'. This means to 'give' someone a compliment. Note that here 'pay' does not mean to give someone money!

    “He complained that his boss never paid him any compliments.”

    We can say two things 'complement' one another when they 'go well' together. The two items make one another even better once combined. 

    “The sauce complemented the dish.”

    So how can you remember which verb to use? Here's a tip: 'complement' is similar to the word 'complete'.

    If you want to say that putting two things together makes it look or feel complete, you use the word 'complement'.

    What about 'complimentary' and 'complementary'?

    'Complimentary' as an adjective has two meanings.

    It can mean to give or supply something free of charge. 

    “The hotel provided complimentary towels for its guests.”

    It can also mean expressing admiration or praise.

    “Most of the restaurant's patrons are complimentary about the food.”

    'Complementary' is also an adjective. It can be used to talk about things that go together and complete each other.

    “The online version of the newspaper is complementary to the print version.”

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