Wondering whether to use ‘compliment’ or ‘complement’ in a sentence? Learn how to tell them apart and you’ll never be confused again.

Compliment and complement are two words that seem to perplex people. Maybe it’s because they’re homophones: they sound the same when you say them aloud, but they have different meanings.

Picture of dictionary definition for homophone to go with post on compliment or complement

The English language can be difficult to navigate for even the most experienced writers, so don’t worry if you’re unsure about how to use compliment and complement in a sentence. Let’s take a look at the definitions for each word, and then explore some examples to deepen your understanding.

Compliment

Compliment can be used as a noun or a verb. Let’s consider its noun form first.

Picture of dictionary definition for compliment, noun form, to explain compliment or complement

Remember that nouns are things (physical or abstract). As a noun, a compliment is a polite remark – a nice thing that one person says to another.

Example 1: Diana received several compliments about her new hairstyle.

Example 2: John’s personal trainer paid him a huge compliment today.

Example 3: ‘My compliments on your chocolate cake, Anne. It’s yummy!’

Try this trick to help you remember…

Picture of memory trick for compliment to explain compliment or complement

Now, let’s compare the verb form of compliment

Picture of dictionary definition for compliment, verb form, to explain compliment or complement

Remember what your teachers used to say about verbs? They’re doing words. They refer to actions. In verb form, compliment refers to the action of congratulating or praising someone for something.

Example 1: Michael complimented Josephine on her new car.

Example 2: The musicians were complimented for their stellar performance at the concert.

Example 3: My husband flatters me by complimenting my cooking skills.

Complement

Like compliment above, complement can be used as a noun or a verb. Let’s take a closer look at its noun form first…

Picture of dictionary definition for complement, noun form, to explain compliment or complement

Example 1: This red wine was the perfect complement to the paella. (In this scenario, the wine is the thing that emphasises the quality of the paella.)

Example 2: An anti-wrinkle cream would be an excellent complement to Beth’s existing beauty regimen. (In this scenario, the anti-wrinkle cream is the thing that would enhance Beth’s current routine.)

Example 3: Helen is planning a weekly podcast as a complement to her YouTube series on gardening. (In this scenario, Helen’s podcast is the thing that’s going to enrich her existing YouTube series.)

Picture this mnemonic when you need to recall these examples…

Picture of memory trick for complement to explain compliment or complement

Let’s move on and see how complement is used as a verb…

Picture of dictionary definition for complement, verb form, to explain compliment or complement

Example 1: Stylish cufflinks complement a tuxedo.

Example 2: The weekend charity drive will complement our other community initiatives.

Example 3: The boxer is working on his strength to complement his speed and stamina.

Compliment and complement are on my list of problematic words. You can download The Tricky Ten by Janine Papendorf for free right now.

Happy writing, folks!


Janine Papendorf likes coffee, chocolate and wine. Not necessarily in that order. She’s married to a nerdy biker and they’re raising Cape Town’s cleverest child. When she’s not building Lego castles or watching old movies, Janine likes to send words into cyberspace. She’s a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based in South Africa’s beautiful Mother City. Witness her obsession with pink flowers on Instagram, or contact her to collaborate on a project.


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