Word Confusion: Complement versus Compliment

Posted December 3, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

This one makes me nuts. It’s as though no one is aware that complement even exists!

An interesting mnemonic aid for this pair of heterographs was provided by TK from Daily Writing Tips: compliment with an i is the opposite of an insult while complement with an e “makes equal” or Cfoster’s “complete”. My own interpretation is that complement “goes wEll with ___” but then, that’s the artist in me!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Complement Compliment
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Using Color” courtesy of Cornell University’s Gardening site

Colors opposite each other on a color wheel are their complements.

Sign requesting that you tear off a compliment

“The Power of Compliment” courtesy of Sanctuary Counseling

Sanctuary has a great post on “Can You Accept A Compliment?”, and yeah…this is one of those affirmations we all need to learn to accept. With grace.

Part of Grammar:
Noun; Verb, transitive

Past tense or past participle: complemented
Gerund or Present participle: complementing

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Past tense or past participle: complimented
Gerund or Present participle: complimenting

Completes, goes well with something, brings to perfection

May also refer to color choices, as in complementary colors

A number or quantity of something required to make a group complete

[Geometry] Amount in degrees by which a given angle is less than 90-degrees

[Mathematics] Members of a set that are not members of a given subset

[Grammar] One or more words, phrases, or clauses governed by a verb, a nominalization, or a predicative adjective that completes the meaning of the predicate

An adjective or noun that has the same reference as either the subject or the object

[Physiology] Group of proteins present in blood plasma and tissue fluid that combine with an antigen-antibody complex to bring about the lysis of foreign cells

Verb, transitive:
Add to something in a way that enhances or improves it

Make perfect

Add to or make complete

An expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration

Verb, intransitive:
To pay compliments

Verb, transitive:
Offering of praise or flattery to another person

[Archaic] Present someone with something as a mark of courtesy
We had the full complement of pots and pans.

Blue is the complement of orange while red is the complement of green.

The army is up to its full complement.

My compliments to the chef.

Verb, transitive:
Oh, that color really complements your eyes!

The proposals complement the incentives already available.

A classic blazer complements a casual look.

With my compliments

Oh, that’s a lovely dress.

There was a very complimentary review in the paper.

The drinks are complimentary.

Verb, intransitive:
You could see she expected to be complimented.

Verb, transitive:
He complimented her on her taste.

[Archaic] Celebrities frequently expect to be complimented with free goods.

Adjective: complemental, complementary
Noun: complementary, complementer
Adjective: complimentable, complimentaries, complimentary, uncomplimented
Adverb: complimentingly
Noun: complimentaries, complimentary, complimenter, compliments
Verb, transitive: outcompliment
History of the Word:
Late Middle English in the sense of completion from the Latin complementum, from complere meaning fill up. Up until 1655, complement was the preferred English spelling

Between 1655 and 1715, the all-e spelling was gradually replaced by today’s version, compliment

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Masterlock Padlock” is Thegreenj’s own work under the GFDL, CC BY-SA 2.5, GFDL, or CC-BY-SA-3.0 licenses and “Skeleton Key Drawing” by Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810-1896) is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.