Easy English mix-ups: complement & compliment

‘Complement’ and ‘compliment’ are two words that are very easy to mix up, especially as they are pronounced the exact same way but are spelled a little differently.

First let’s look at the definitions:

Complement – Can be a noun and a verb. It is defined as something that makes something else look better or completes it. For example, ‘The wine really complements the main course’. This means that the wine and the main course taste really good when they are served together.

Compliment – This is also used as a noun and a verb. A compliment is something nice that you say about someone else. For example, if you say to someone, ‘I like your shirt’ then this is a compliment.

Now let’s talk about the pronunciations:

Both of the words are pronounced exactly the same way. If you look it up in the dictionary, the pronunciation is written as /ˈkämpləmənt/.

Tricks to remember the differences:

I’d like you to get up every single morning and say something nice about yourself. Look in the mirror and say, ‘I look beautiful/handsome today’. And when you are doing this you will notice that your subject is ‘I’, which is the same letter used in ‘compliment’. So when you compliment yourself, you use ‘I’ as your subject and you use ‘i’ in the spelling.

Remember, when we talk about something complementing another thing, we say that it ‘completes’ the other item. Notice, the spelling of ‘complete’ and ‘complement’ are very similar. Complete does not have an ‘i’ and neither should ‘complement’.

So now let’s try a little quiz: fill in the blanks with the correct word and you’ll find the answers below.

1. The shirt really ____________ the suit you are wearing.

a. Compliments

b. Complements

c. Complement

2. If I tell him that he looks great today, would I be ________________ him?

a. Compliment

b. Complements

c. Complimenting

3. When was the last time you gave yourself a _______________?

a. Complement

b. Compliment

c. Complements

Answers: 1. B, 2. C, 3. B

image: Rusty Clark