Compliment vs. Complement: What's the Difference? (AUDIO reading included)
Imagine this: You have texted a picture to your friend because you want to show them your new earrings. Your friend replies with "They look really nice on you." You start typing a response:
Thanks for the...
What's the word? Is it compliment or complement? If you're reading this, you have probably experienced a similar situation, and you want to erase your spelling doubts once and for all. Well, let's not waste any time. Here are the main differences between "compliment" and "complement":
Compliment (verb): to politely express praise, admiration, respect, or affection.
Compliment (noun): a polite expression of praise, admiration, respect, or affection.
also: formal and respectful recognition or best wishes.
also: used in the phrase "compliments of" to identify the source of a free gift, item, or service.
Complement (verb): to complete or enhance something with something else, or to go well with something.
Complement (noun): something which completes or enhances something else.
also: the full quantity or assortment needed or included.
also: one half of two mutual parts.
Definitions are nice, but they're cold without context. So, let's take a look at the various ways we can use these two sometimes-confused words.
You can give someone a compliment, pay someone a compliment, get or receive a compliment, be given or be paid a compliment, take something as a compliment, or simply compliment someone (on or for something), or be complimented by someone (on or for something). This is the word you want to use in the earrings example at the beginning of this text. As you can see, this word can be a verb or a noun. Let's take a look at some common situations:
"My sociology prof complimented me on my essay."
"Jeff, one thing I can say about you is that you have a strong voice. People always know when you're in a room."
"Thanks? I'll take that as a compliment, I guess."
"Hey, you did a great job on the project."
"Are you messing with me?" (This means, "Are you playing a joke on me?")
"No, I'm giving you a compliment."
"Myra, your food is the best. You should charge people for it."
"If you keep paying me compliments like that, I might start charging you."
"I received a nice compliment from your dad for the work I did on his taxes. He said I was a very conscientious person."
"I just want to compliment you on all of the great work you've done lately. It's really appreciated."
"Thanks for saying that. I don't get many compliments."
"Just because you compliment someone doesn't mean that person owes you something."
"One way to start a conversation with someone is to compliment them on something they're wearing. Just be respectful about it."
"You're a pretty good soccer player."
"Was that a compliment? From you?"
"Don't let it go to your head." (This means don't allow it to make you feel too important or too proud of yourself.)
"I must compliment you on this painting. It's beautiful."
The opposite of a compliment is an insult or criticism. You can also use compliment in situations such as these:
"Give my compliments to the chef." (This means give my respectful recognition to the chef for their delicious cooking.)
"Your room is free today, compliments of the hotel for your loyal patronage." (This means the hotel is paid for by the hotel as a "Thank you" for using the hotel so often.)
"I have received an official warning, compliments of my boss, for not being on time for work every day this week." (This is used in a sarcastic or funny way.)
To practice, complete the following sentences with your own ideas:
I complimented him on...
I received a compliment on my...
Give my compliments to...
Now, let's move on to complements.
A complement enhances, completes, or simply goes well with something else. Certain colours complement each other, such as black and white. At dinner time, white wine complements (or "goes well with") fish and light meat, and red wine complements (or "goes well with") dark meat.
A good way to remember when to use complement is to keep its Latin roots in mind. While both "compliment" and "complement" come from complēre, which means "to complete," it is only complement that has kept the 'e' in its spelling. Just think "complete" and "complement," and you should be able to remember which one to use.
Another common context for the word "complement" is clothing items, jewelry, and basically anything you can wear on your body. If something "goes well with" or "goes together with" something, it complements it. Let's look at some examples:
"That sweater complements your shoes really well."
"Your tie really complements your entire outfit."
"I would change my shirt if I were you. The red is too bright and doesn't really complement the colour of your pants."
Now, let's look at some non-food and non-clothing examples.
"The illustrations in this book are a wonderful complement to the text."
"I love both, the book and the movie. I don't look at them as opposites. I look at them as complements."
"Before I met your mom, I was a very disorganized person. She was the exact opposite, but we fit well together. When I found your mom, I found my complement." (Another common phrase for this usage is "I found my other half," or "She's my other half." These have very romantic meanings.)
Finally, a complement of something can refer to an assortment or full collection of something. It's often used in the phrase "a full complement." Let's take a look at some examples:
"The general has trained a complement of soldiers."
"If you need anything, just ask. We have a full complement of staff available to assist you."
"His video game collection is incredible. He has a full complement of 1990s Japanese role-playing games for the Super Nintendo."
Okay, now it's your turn. Finish these sentences with your own ideas:
I have a full complement of...
I'd love to have a full complement of...
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