Compliment, Complement

How to Compliment a Complement

by Owen Fourie

“What a fine body of men!” said the admiral as the battle cruiser moved away from the pier with its full complement of officers and crew.

That’s one way to compliment a complement.

With the middle vowel being the only visible difference between these two homophones, it isn’t surprising that they are often confused.

Let’s get some clarity for correct usage.


This word speaks

  • of praise and admiration;
  • of pleasure in someone’s success;
  • of commendation for a job well done;
  • of salutation and greeting.

These sentences will help you to understand how to use this word.

Compliment as a noun

  1. Her natural beauty stirred the compliments of her suitors.
  2. It is quite an achievement to receive a compliment from the psychology professor who is sparse in his praises.
  3. Blushing slightly, she accepted the professor’s compliment.
  4. Give my compliments to your parents when you write to them.

Compliment as a verb

  1. Taken by her natural beauty, her suitors complimented her.
  2. The psychology professor is complimenting her for her flawless paper.
  3. It was evident that she was a little embarrassed as he complimented her.
  4. When the professor complimented her, she sensed his sincerity.


This word speaks

  • of making up the whole;
  • of completing something;
  • of bringing a situation or condition to a perfect state.

The following sentences will demonstrate some of the applications of this word. It has many uses.

Complement as a noun

  1. The complement of this ship comprises 12 officers and 220 men.
  2. The larger of two angles in this right angle measures 50 degrees, which means that its complement—the smaller angle—is 40 degrees.
  3. Some people prefer nutmeg as a complement for their oats; others prefer cinnamon.
  4. In this sentence, “I like to read novels,” the complement of the verb, like, is the infinitive phrase, “to read novels.” (These words complete the predicate of the sentence.)

Complement as a verb

  1. The varicolored effect of the sunset on the wispy clouds complemented a perfect day.
  2. The arrangement of chrysanthemums complemented the simple decor of the entrance hall.
  3. Nutmeg complements my bowl of oats every morning.
  4. Half a cup of raisins will complement this bread pudding to make it truly delicious.

Try this memory trick

For compliment

  • Think of praising—a word with two i‘s
  • Think of compliment as an I-word that pleases both the giver and the receiver of praise:
  • Think of the giver saying, “I praise you for …”
  • Think of the receiver thinking, I am so pleased to receive such praise.

For complement

  • Think of complete—a word with two e‘s
  • Think of complement as a word with two e‘s

Complimenting your complement

If you tell me that you applied this memory trick, and it helped you to use the word complement correctly in your essay, I’ll tell you how smart you are.

I’ll compliment you on your correct use of complement, and this is another way to compliment a complement. 🙂


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with homophones or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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