Compliment vs Complement. What’s the difference?

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Today, we’re going to talk about the difference between “compliment” and “complement”. Both are pronounced the same, but they’re spelled differently (one is spelled with an “i”, the other with an “e”) and have different meanings.

So in speaking, this isn’t a problem because they sound the same. But when you’re writing it, do make sure you’re using the correct spelling!

Let’s look at the meanings of both words.

politely congratulate or praise (someone) for something.
Example: “Umairah complimented me for doing well today.”

a polite expression of praise or admiration.
Example: “I gave her a huge compliment for her amazing artwork.”

contribute extra features to (someone or something) in such a way as to improve or emphasise their qualities.
Example: “The shirt Harry is wearing today complements his green eyes.”

a thing that contributes extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasise its quality.
Example: “Hot coffee is the perfect complement to nasi lemak,” said Aina to the tourist.

So do you see the difference between the two?

Many also often confuse “complimentary” and “complementary”. These words are derived adjectives of “compliment” and “complement”. So if you’re saying something is free as a courtesy, or is favourable, use “complimentary” (from the meaning of “compliment”).

“The company gave us complimentary tickets to attend the concert.”
“Critics gave complimentary reviews for his performance that night.”

If you’re saying things are different from each other but make a good combination, or something completes another thing (from the meaning of “complement”), use “complementary.”

“Rina and Jay have different but complementary skills to move the project forward.”

So there you have it. I hope you’re now able to tell the difference between “compliment” and “complement” in writing. You can look up more examples of these words online to get a better understanding. Try coming up with examples of your own based on your situation at work.

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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