Compliment vs Complement: What’s the Difference?

There’s a key difference between “compliment” and “complement.” While these two words are often misunderstood and used incorrectly by writers, having a firm grasp of their differences is essential to mastering the nuances of the English language and producing great content. 

If you don’t want to make the rookie mistake of using “compliment” when you meant “complement” (or vice versa), start with their underlying definitions, then explore how these terms are used correctly in various scenarios. 

What Is a Compliment?

A compliment is a form of praise, admiration, or endorsement that’s expressed toward a person, a group, or an item. When you express appreciation for someone’s appearance, skills, accomplishments, or qualities through a polite expression, you’re giving them a compliment.

Imagine you’re at a party and you see your friend wearing a stylish outfit. If you say, “Wow, you look great in that dress,” you are paying a compliment to your friend. In this case, you’re expressing your admiration for their appearance.

Another example would be if your co-worker presents an impressive proposal during a meeting. If you comment, “That was an excellent presentation and the diagrams were really insightful,” you are complimenting your co-worker on their commendable work.

Compliments can be as simple as saying, “I love your new haircut.” These phrases, though simple, are powerful tools in building and maintaining social relationships. The beauty of compliments is that they spread positivity and build a sense of appreciation between individuals.

What Is a Complement?

A complement, on the other hand, refers to something that completes, enhances, or brings perfection to something else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an item. It can refer to a feature, a personality trait, a skill, or even a color.

For example, if you’re at an art gallery and you observe a painting in which the blue sky perfectly enhances the vibrant colors of the sunflowers, you might say, “The blue sky complements the sunflowers beautifully.” In this case, the sky does not express admiration for the sunflowers. Instead, they pair well together.

Similarly, let’s say you’re at a restaurant. After tasting your food, you might comment, “The wine perfectly complements the steak.” In this case, you’re indicating that the flavors of the wine and steak enhance each other, resulting in a more enjoyable dining experience.

How They’re Used in Everyday Language

Using “compliment” correctly involves praising someone or something. For example, you might tell a friend:

  • “I love the way you styled your hair.”
  • “You are such a great listener.”
  • “Your cookies are delicious!”

Using “complement” correctly involves identifying how well two things go together. For instance, you could say, “The red curtains complement the beige walls.” Here, you are noting how the red and beige colors enhance each other, providing an aesthetic appeal to the room.

Also, keep in mind that the context of a sentence can often help you determine which word to use. If the context involves praise or admiration, “compliment” is probably the appropriate choice. If the context involves completion or enhancement, “complement” would likely fit better.

Key Differences between “Compliment” and “Complement”

The main difference between these words lies in how they’re used in a sentence:

  • A compliment is used when expressing praise or admiration for someone or something.
  • A complement refers to something that enhances or completes another thing.

For example, if you said, “Your shoes compliment your outfit,” it would imply that your shoes have expressed admiration for your outfit, which doesn’t make sense at all. Instead, you should say, “Your shoes complement your outfit,” implying that your shoes go well with your outfit.

Depending on which word you choose, the sentence “My friend complements/compliments me” can have a very different meaning.

Improve Your Writing with EditorNinja’s Professional Editing Services

Even though “compliment” and “complement” sound like the same word, they have distinct meanings and uses in the English language. A compliment is a form of praise or admiration, while a complement enhances or completes another thing.

Getting these two words right in your writing or speech is crucial for clear and effective communication. Remember to compliment people when you appreciate them and complement them when you want to help enhance or provide them with reinforcement.

Many writers and content producers still occasionally trip up over these two terms, and it can result in content that confuses the reader or, even worse, makes them think you aren’t a credible source. 

If you find it challenging to differentiate between the two words or simply don’t want to worry about getting it wrong in the future, enlist EditorNinja’s professional editing services. We’re the perfect complement to your writing. Schedule a no-stress, no-risk, super-friendly discussion with our team to discuss your editing needs today!