Compliment or Complement | Difference & Examples

Compliment and complement are pronounced the same, but they have different meanings.

  • Compliment (with an ‘i’) can be used as a noun to refer to admiration or praise. As a verb, it refers to the act of praising.
  • Complement (with an ‘e’) can be used as a noun to refer to something that completes or enhances something else. As a verb, it refers to this act of completing or enhancing.
Examples: ‘Compliment’ in a sentence Examples: ‘Complement’ in a sentence
Hannah received a compliment on her new summer dress. The acidity of the wine complements the flavor of the fish.
Peggy complimented Alex on his excellent gardening skills. The color of the painting is a nice complement to the color of the furniture.

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‘Compliment’ (praise)

Compliment is used as a noun meaning an expression of praise, admiration, or respect. In this context, it’s often used along with the verb ‘pay’.

Examples: ‘Compliment’ as a noun
If you like him, you should pay him a compliment.

I’ll take compliments over criticism any day!

As a verb, compliment means to express  praise, admiration, or respect. To compliment someone is to give them a compliment.

Examples: ‘Compliment’ as a verb
Ellie compliments her friends often.

A few people have complimented Simon on his guitar playing, but he’s not very good.

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‘Complement’ (completion)

Complement can be used as a noun to refer to someone or something that completes, enhances, or works well with someone or something else.

Examples: ‘Complement’ as a noun
The lighting was the perfect complement to the décor.

Jim’s shoes are a nice complement to his suit.

The labor shortage means that not many businesses are running with a full complement of staff.

Complement (as a verb) refers to the act of completing, enhancing, or working well with someone or something else.

Examples: ‘Complement’ as a verb
Nicky and Kai complement each other well when they work as a team.

Abdul’s technical knowledge complemented Sarah’s writing skills.

The walnuts complement the other ingredients in the sauce nicely.

‘Complimentary’ vs ‘complementary’

Complimentary and complementary are both adjectives. Their meanings are closely related to the two nouns.

Complimentary can be used to describe something flattering, like a positive remark or assessment.

Example: ‘Complimentary’ to mean ‘positive’
Khan made a complimentary remark about your cooking.

It can also be used to mean ‘free’ when referring to goods or services.

Example: ‘Complimentary’ to mean ‘free’
The hotel offers complimentary room service.

Complementary can be used to describe someone or something as enhancing or completing something else.

Example: ‘Complementary’ in a sentence
Amelia and I work well together because we have complementary goals.

Complementary is also used in technical contexts:

  • In geometry, two angles that can be added together to equal 90 degrees are referred to as complementary angles.
  • In optics, colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are referred to as complementary colors (e.g., green and red).

‘Backhanded compliment’

Backhanded compliment is a common phrase used to refer to an insult or criticism expressed in the form of a compliment.

Example: ‘Backhanded compliment’ in a sentence
Melanie paid you a backhanded compliment when she said her mother has the same dress.

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‘Fishing for compliments’

Fishing for compliments is an expression meaning to say or do something in an attempt to receive compliments – typically by drawing attention to something they want to be praised for or by criticizing themselves insincerely.

Example: ‘Fishing for compliments’ in a sentence
Rick was fishing for compliments when he made that comment about his recent publication.

‘Compliments of’

Compliments of is an expression used to identify the source of something that is complimentary (i.e., free). It’s used along with the name of the person or organization from whom the complimentary thing is given.

Example: ‘Compliments of’ in a sentence
The couple received a bottle of red wine, compliments of the house.

The diners were served a special appetiser, compliments of the chef.

Worksheet: Complement vs compliment

Test your knowledge of the difference between ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’ by using our practice worksheet below. Fill in either ‘compliment’ or ‘complement’, or a related word, in each sentence.

  1. My teacher rarely offers _______. So when she praised my essay, I was surprised.
  2. I _______ my partner at least once a day.
  3. Each member of the team was a _______ to the others.
  4. The cover of the book really _______ its gothic theme.
  5. The passengers on the plane were given a _______ meal.
  6. Alina paid me a backhanded _______ when she said that my purse _______ my outfit.
  1. My teacher rarely offers compliments. So when she praised my essay, I was surprised.
    • Here, ‘compliment’ is a noun meaning ‘an expression of praise’.
  1. I compliment my partner at least once a day.
    • Here, ‘compliment’ is used as a verb referring to the act of expressing praise.
  1. Each member of the team was a complement to the others.
    • Here, ‘complement’ is correct. In this instance, it is used as a noun to refer to someone or something that completes or works well with someone or something else.
  1. The cover of the book really complements its gothic theme.
    • Here, ‘complement’ is correct. In this instance, it is used as a verb referring to the act of completing, enhancing, or working well with someone or something else.
  1. The passengers on the plane were given a complimentary meal.
    • Here, ‘complimentary’ is correct. In this instance it means ‘free’ in reference to goods or services.
  2. Alina paid me a backhanded compliment when she said that my purse complemented my outfit.
    • In the first instance, ‘compliment’ is used as a noun in the expression ‘backhanded compliment’. In the second instance, ‘complement’ is used to mean ‘complete’ or ‘enhance’. The past simple of ‘complement’ is ‘complemented’.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.