Compliment and Complement

There is often confusion over the words complement and compliment. They sound similar, but their meanings are very different.


A compliment is an expression of praise. For example:
  • My compliments to the chef for such a wonderful meal.
  • When I said your eyes looked misty, I meant that as a compliment.
  • Tell the cook of this restaurant with my compliments that these are the very worst sandwiches in the whole world, and that, when I ask for a watercress sandwich, I do not mean a loaf with a field in the middle of it. (Oscar Wilde)
  • (Compliments means good wishes, regards, or respect.)


A complement is an enhancement. A complement enhances something else or goes well with it. For example:
  • Cranberry sauce is a complement for turkey.
  • The cashew nuts were an excellent complement for the soup.
  • (The cashew nuts went well with the soup.)
  • The drums were a perfect complement to their dancing style.
  • (The drums enhanced their dancing style.)
Complement can also mean composition or make-up. (In this meaning, it is often seen in the term full complement, meaning the whole number.) For example:
  • Do you have your full complement of men?

The Verbs To Compliment and To Complement

The examples above all relate to nouns. However, both words exist as verbs.
  • I would like to compliment the pilot on such a smooth landing.
  • (I would like to praise the pilot.)
  • The jade and silver cufflinks complement the green tie.
  • (The jade and silver cufflinks go well with the green tie.)
  • He has worked hard for many years to break my record. I can only complement him for such terrific dedication.
  • (This should be compliment not complement.)

Complimentary and Complementary

The adjectives complimentary and complementary also cause confusion.


Complimentary has two meanings. It means expressing praise or free. For example:
  • Her review was extremely complimentary.
  • (Here, complimentary means expressing praise.)
  • All drinks are complimentary.
  • (Here, complimentary means free.)


Complementary is used to describe things that combine to enhance an outcome. For example:
  • Our skills were different but complementary.

A Quick Test

Ways to Remember Compliment and Complement

  • To compliment and to praise both contain the letter i.
  • To complement and to enhance both contain two e's.

Complement Also Means Composition Or Make-Up

  • Do you have a full complement of men for your mission?

A Short Video Explaining Compliment and Complement