What is the Difference Between Compliment and Complement?

Compliment vs. Complement - what is the difference


Compliment vs. Complement

The confusion between these two words is so common! There are a few of reasons for this:

  1. The words are one letter off, so it could just be a spelling mistake.
  2. Both can be a noun or a verb
  3. These two words SEEM similar in meaning because they both have positive connotations, but they are actually quite different.


So, let’s take a look at these and tease out the nuances of both.



As a verb, this means “to say something nice about another” (as a noun, it is the nice thing that is said). Some examples would be:

  • Your new haircut really suits you.
  • The work Suzahn did on that project was stellar.
  • John is such a hard worker.

All of these sentences contain compliments, to you, Suzahn, and John, respectively.

The adjective form is “complimentary.” An example would be:

  • People who are overly complimentary often seem insincere. (These people say a lot of nice things directly to the people they are about.)



As a verb, this means “to enhance, make complete, or accompany” (and, as a noun, it is the thing enhancing, completing, or accompanying). Some examples would be:

  • Cinnamon is an excellent complement to apples. (Cinnamon enhances apples.)
  • John’s ability to look at the big picture really complements Suzahn’s attention to details. (John’s abilities complete Suzahn’s, and vice versa)

And, the adjective form is “complementary”, as shown here:

  • Blue and orange are complementary colors. (They complete and enhance each other.)

As you can see, these are really quite different in meaning!



Katie Almeida Spencer

About the author

Katie Almeida Spencer

Katie is an experienced Business Writing and English as a Second Language instructor, business writing coach, and teacher trainer. She taught Business and Academic Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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