Complement or compliment; another example of those tricky homophones that often catch people out. As is the case with stationery and stationary, there is just one letter different which means it’s easy to mix up these two very different words.
Never fear! The Make Your Copy Count team is here to make sure you don’t have to worry about confusing these two words again.
Complement is the older of the two words and derives from the Latin word complēmentum. Complēmentum translates as ‘something that completes’ and the word complement means to complete, enhance, make perfect or go well with something else. If one thing complements another then the two things are better because they are together.
Examples of correct use:
The colour of your tie really complements your eyes
The red wine really complemented the meal
Great copy will complement the design of your website
The word complement can also refer to when the quantity or assortment of something is complete, although this use of the word can sometimes sound a bit formal and dated.
We have a full complement of staff working
Our kitchen includes a full complement of pots and pans
Complement is also used in scientific and technical areas for example, when talking about complementary angles or colours.
The word compliment is used when praising or flattering someone; you give someone a compliment.
Examples of correct use:
I must compliment you on the excellent work you have done
I received lots of compliments on my new dress
Thanks for the lovely compliment
It was meant as a compliment
My compliments to the chef
Complimentary is the adjective form as in ‘he was very complimentary’ but it can also be used to mean free.
The biscuits in the room were complimentary
The mini-bar was not complimentary; we were charged at the end of our stay
Tea and coffee was complimentary during the flight
The plural form of compliment can be used in place of best wishes as in ‘with compliments’ or when sending a compliments slip.
How to remember which is which
When you understand the difference in meanings it is easy to remember which is which.
Compliment with an ‘i’ means to praise. You can remember this by thinking about the ‘i’ in compliment:
“I like to give compliments”
“I like to receive compliments”
Complimentary also means free so again remember the ‘i’:
“I like it when things are complimentary”
Complement with an ‘e’ means to complete or to enhance. Just remember that the beginning of the word complementary is the same as complete or that the ‘e‘ in complement is for enhance
Are you complementary or complimentary?
There’s a clear difference in meanings of these words and it’s important not to confuse them.
Telling people that the biscuits are complementary may cause a bit of confusion. Do you actually mean complimentary (in which case we’d love some) or do they just go nicely with a cup of tea?
Writing about how your new software compliments your existing products might raise a few eyebrows. Is your software just very polite?
A few final examples:
The complimentary biscuits complemented the tea and coffee nicely
I must compliment the chef on how well his sauce complemented the vegetables
I received a lovely compliment on how well my new shoes complemented my dress
We got lots of compliments about how good the complimentary refreshments were
Many people compliment us on the full complement of services we offer
At Make Your Copy Count, we want everyone to get the most from their copy. Let us know which homophones catch you out and we’ll clear up the confusion for you. Tweet us @MYCCUK.
We look forward to helping you Make Your Copy Count.