Business Grammar: Complement or Compliment?

by Mary Cullen on Tue, Jun 25, 2013

This statement contains a business grammar error. Find and correct it.business-grammar-compliment-complement-image

Business writing training will reduce the time your employees spend writing each document by at least 30%. Your employees likely spend 40% of each workday writing, so cost savings are substantial. And, better employee writing will improve information flow across your company and foster warm customer relations.

Schedule a complementary consultation, to discuss how training will help your company profit from effective writing.

Correction:

Business writing training will reduce the time your employees spend writing each document by at least 30%. Your employees likely spend 40% of each workday writing so cost savings are substantial. And, better employee writing will improve information flow across your company and foster warm customer relations.

Schedule a complimentary consultation, to discuss how training will help your company profit from effective writing.

Solution:

Complimentary is an adjective that means:

  1. Expressing a compliment; praising or approving: Jennie was very complimentary about Kathy's riding | complimentary remarks.
  2. Given or supplied free of charge: a complimentary bottle of wine

Complementary is an adjective that means:

  1. Combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another: three guitarists playing interlocking, complementary parts | Internet technology is actually complementary to traditional technologies.
  2. Of or relating to complementary medicine: complementary therapies such as aromatherapy.

This is a common error in business writing because grammar check software will not catch this word choice error for you because both words are correct. The trick is using them correctly in context.

One of my favorite teachers in grade school, Sister Barbara Shea, taught my class a trick I still remember to help differentiate these two similar words. "I am kind and generous so I like to give compliments," she would kindly remind us if we used these terms incorrectly. Her advice will help you, too, remember that the version that means flattery or free service - phrasings common in business writing - is the version spelled with the "I."

And, yes, Sister Barbara really was kind and generous, and an inspiring teacher. This compliment is accurate.

Topics: Business Grammar

Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Rhode Island, a M.A in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

Read Mary Cullen Full Bio