Compliment vs. Complement

“Ah, I see you two are enjoying my meat. I was just buying some wine, a nice port to complement what you two have just eaten. By the way, you know what you’ve just eaten, right?”—Philadelphia’s esteemed Frank Reynolds, telling Dee and Charlie that they just ingested human meat

This week, we discuss the difference between compliment and complement.

Long regarded as the forbidden food, man is also the most dangerous game—and homophones are the most dangerous force in English. Because they sound alike, these semantic sirens can lead even the most seasoned writers astray:

Am I eating mousse or moose? Do I have bad genes or bad jeans? Dear God . . . I just don’t know anymore!

Hoodwinked by homophones, scribes will wander aimlessly in their words—lost, confused, and hungry—the grammatical equivalent of being hunted by Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey. The way to save your skin and survive this game is simple: know your homophones.

Compliment

  1. Noun: indicates an expression or act of praise, admiration, respect, or flattery.
  2. Example: Where I’m from, “guido” is a slur, not a compliment.

  3. Verb: to congratulate or praise someone.
  4. Example: We should compliment brave people who implement new child care strategies.

Complement

  1. Noun: something that completes or perfects
  2. Example: Swinging a fistful of awesome, The Daily Show is the perfect complement to any political season.

  3. Noun: the amount required to bring a group to completion
  4. Example: With my purchase of Boy-Crazy Stacey, I now have a full complement of the Baby-sitters Club books for my library.

  5. Verb: to add something in order to complete or perfect
  6. Example: There’s nothing like a fine bottle of MD 20/20 to complement my crystal meth (Big ups to W.W.)

A Tip to Tell the Difference

Both compliment and complement derive from the Latin root word for “completion.” Use this to your mnemonic advantage: complete has an “e,” and complement means “to complete”…so voilà, there you go.

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