Were you confused when you saw the featured image for this post? If you were, don’t feel bad about it. A lot of people confuse the words “compliment” and “complement.” After all, these words differ by just one letter, so the English language hasn’t exactly made it easy for us to keep these words straight.
Because so many people confuse “compliment” and “complement,” we’re going to use this post to talk about the difference between them.
Let’s start off with “compliment.” We use the word “compliment” when we’re describing something nice that someone said about someone else. For example, we use “compliment” in sentences like these:
- “I received a lot of compliments on the salad.”
- “Can you believe that Pasha gave Tom a compliment on his hat?”
- “The sales team gave the marketing team compliments on their latest campaign.”
In these sentences, we’ve used “compliment” as a noun, a word that describes people, animals, places, or things. However, we can also use “compliment” as a verb, a word that describes an action. For example, we can rephrase the sentences above so that can end up using “compliment” as a verb instead of as a noun:
- “Many guests complimented me on the salad.”
- “Can you believe that Pasha complimented Tom on his hat?”
- “The sales team complimented the marketing team on their latest campaign.”
In comparison, we use “complement” (with an “e”) when we’re saying that two or more things go together well. For example, we could use “compliment” as a noun in sentences like these:
- “Zurich was a great complement to Paris for our vacation.”
- “Stella is a good complement to Chris as a business partner.”
- “The lemon flavour was an excellent complement to the pistachio in the chocolate.” (By the way, if you’ve never tried lemon and pistachio chocolate, you need to find some now!)
Just like we were able to use “compliment” as a noun and a verb, we can use “complement” as both a noun and a verb. For example, we can tweak the sentences above to use “complement” as a verb:
- “Zurich complemented Paris as a destination for our vacation.”
- “Stella complements Chris as a business partner.”
- “The lemon flavour complemented the pistachio in the chocolate well.”
So now you know the difference between “compliment” and “complement,” but you may still have a hard time remembering which one is which. To keep these two words straight, try this trick from Grammar Girl: tell yourself that you’re a nice person by saying “I like to give compliments.” Emphasize the “I” when you say it so that you remember that the word that contains an “I” (i.e., “compliment”) is the one that describes the nice things you say about people.
Want to know the difference between other commonly misused words? Check out our post on the difference between “principal” and “principle.”
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