What is the Difference Between Compliment and Complement?

by Katie Almeida Spencer on Tue, Sep 26, 2017

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!



Topics: Business Grammar

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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