complacent vs. complaisant

Like we talked about in our recent post on diffuse vs. defuse, the English language is a tricky beast. There are so many pairs of words that look or sound similar. But it isn’t always clear whether they mean the same thing or different things. Are complacent vs. complaisant (a) different ways to spell the same word, (b) two different words, or (c) English vs. French translations of the same word? We’re going to solve the puzzle in this post.

Complacent vs. complaisant are different words

Complacent vs. complaisant sound the same and look similar. (And they’re derived from the same Latin word.) But they’re separate words with different definitions. Here’s what they mean:


Complacent means being self-satisfied or smug to a fault. Someone who is complacent is so satisfied with something that he or she isn’t aware of some sort of danger or consequence. You would use complacent in sentences like these:

  • “We can’t afford to be complacent about protecting our rights.”
  • “Employees who become complacent about their performance usually don’t last very long.”
  • “It’s easy to become complacent when things are going well.”

When you’re thinking about the difference between complacent vs. complaisant, remember that complacent describes being too laid back about something.


Does complaisant look like a French word to you? There’s a reason why. Although both complacent and complaisant were ultimately derived from Latin, complaisant more recently came to us from French.

Complaisant means wanting to please people and be agreeable. In fact, some people go as far as to say that someone who is complaisant is a pushover. Here’s how you would use this word in a sentence:

  • “He’s complaisant because he avoids conflict with people.”
  • “She’s so complaisant that she can’t hold people accountable.”
  • “They’re both too complaisant to fight me on this, even though they know it’s not a good idea.”

When you’re thinking about the difference between complacent vs. complaisant, remember that complaisant describes being eager to please.

Are complacent vs. complaisant ever used interchangeably?

Different from what they say about diffuse vs. defuse, grammar experts agree that complacent vs. complaisant are separate words. You may sometimes see people use these words interchangeably but only when they confuse the two. This may change as English evolves. But for now, treat complacent vs. complaisant like distinct words.

A trick to remember the difference between complacent vs. complaisant

Complacent vs. complaisant are so similar. So how can you remember the difference between them? Here’s a trick: remember that someone who is complacent wrongly thinks that he or she is guaranteed to “ace” something. This something can be performing well on the job, successfully meeting quarterly targets, or simply maintaining the status quo.


Complacent vs. complaisant are both words you use to describe people. But you use them in different situations. Use complacent to describe someone who is too laid back about something. And use complaisant to describe someone who is eager to please people.


Should you use anxious or eager in this sentence: “I’m _____ to tell Cindy about our awesome Q4 results”? Find the answer in this post on the difference between anxious vs. eager.


Complacent vs. complaisant: What’s the difference?
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