If you do much reading at all, you’ve probably seen these two words mixed up, one for the other. It’s one of the more common errors in the English language.
What’s the difference?
Compliment refers to speaking highly of someone or something.
We all complimented the cook on the excellent meal.
His face turned beet red at the shower of compliments over his roasted chicken.
Complement refers to the supplementation of something.
That bread you chose was the perfect complement to the soup.
This scarf will complement your outfit nicely.
In grammar, a complement is anything needed to complete a phrase. In the above example, your outfit is the complement of the verb will complement because complement is a transitive verb, and the sentence wouldn’t make sense without saying what the scarf complements. Not confusing at all, right?
Why do we get confused?
The main problem is that both words sound identical and look almost identical as well. It’s just one letter, so what’s the big deal?
They can both be either nouns or verbs. Even some of their uses can appear to overlap. But these two terms actually have distinct meanings.
My go-to trick for remembering which to use is to ask myself if something or someone is being praised or completed. Complete = Complement. The scarf completes the outfit, and the bread completes the soup. But the cook was being praised.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.