Compliment vs. Complement

complement vs compliment

Your spellchecker will not flag either compliment or complement, but do you know the difference between these two commonly confused terms? Compliment and complement are commonly confused terms because they are pronounced alike and originally shared some meanings. Over time, however, they have become separate words with entirely different meanings.

Complement with an e is the older of the two terms. Its noun sense has been around in English since the 1300s. The term derives from the Latin complēmentum, meaning “something that completes.” If something complements something else, it completes it, enhances it, or makes it perfect. A shirt can complement the color of someone’s eyes, or a wine can complement a meal. When we talk about complementary angles, or complementary colors, we’re evoking this sense of complement. Complementary angles are two angles that add up to produce a 90° angle. Complementary colors are colors that are directly across each other on the color wheel, and which enhance one another by their contrast, such as red and green, purple and yellow, and blue and orange.

Compliment with an i dates from the mid-1600s. It came to English from the Spanish cumplimiento, by way of Italian and French. Compliment ultimately derives from the same Latin root as complement, complēmentum, which accounts for some of the early overlap in meaning. The noun compliment means “an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration,” and the verb means, “to praise or express admiration for someone.” You can pay someone a compliment, or compliment someone on a job well done. People sometimes use the phrase “compliments to the chef” after enjoying a good meal. Something that is complimentary is free, for examples, airlines offer complimentary sodas on flights.

So how do you keep these two straight? Just remember that if something complements something, it completes it.

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  1. Karlo Marcos Reyes -  July 11, 2016 - 11:48 am

    This is wrong:
    “It came to English from the Spanish cumplimiento”
    cumplimiento come from the verb “cumplir” that means “comply”

  2. TazLal -  June 13, 2016 - 10:50 pm

    In retail the difference of the two meanings is clear. A scarf complements an outfit and you’d get compliments on how well you have complemented your outfit.
    Comple – complete
    Compli – free or praise
    Another way to remember the difference is when you use the words in a sentence with a preposition it clarifies the difference: compliments of, complementary to.

  3. kohaver -  March 24, 2016 - 10:08 am

    I’m going to remain confused. It seems to me that when referring to how someone’s sweater brings out their eye color, one should use “compliment.” It doesn’t complete their eyes. It flatters and draws attention to them.

    • JCA_BelAir -  April 11, 2016 - 11:13 am

      Kohaver, you are only 1/2 step away:
      It is a compl*I*ment to tell her “That sweater compl*E*ments your eyes!” Eyes and sweaters are inanimate objects, they can’t participate in the act of flattery. The sweater isn’t completing their eye color, but it is enhancing it. Don’t allow the mnemonic of *comple*ment *comple*te to drive the way you view it.

      • Barbara Nickel -  July 7, 2016 - 4:35 pm

        Yes, that is well put. Precisely. The context obviously means “enhance,” which an inanimate object is capable of.

  4. qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm -  February 27, 2016 - 5:51 am

    hello world…

  5. disappointed old viewer -  September 22, 2015 - 5:43 pm

    Did dictionary.com really misspell pronunciation? You’re slipping!

    • Caleb -  October 2, 2015 - 8:53 pm

      No, they didn’t did they? They used the word “pronounced” in the article, but not “pronunciation,” so they their spelling was fine, right?

      • sampurna -  July 21, 2016 - 2:45 pm


    • fqwef -  March 3, 2016 - 10:33 am

      Stop it

  6. Me -  September 9, 2015 - 10:34 am


    • fqwef -  March 3, 2016 - 10:33 am

      you are horrible

  7. The Bookworm -  June 17, 2015 - 7:15 am

    I’m not blogging to polish my reading skills; I do that everyday when I am reading.

  8. Amy -  June 15, 2015 - 2:44 pm

    “for exampleS, airlines offer…”
    I see only one example…is this a typo?

    • Curt -  August 13, 2015 - 11:16 pm

      Wow. A typographical error and it’s the end of the world to some people.

    • fqwef -  March 3, 2016 - 10:32 am


  9. bisrat -  June 12, 2015 - 8:41 am

    Thank you! You have helped me to know the difference for the first time.

    • Curt -  August 13, 2015 - 11:17 pm

      I found it helpful as well. Also won an argument on the subject.

  10. neenee -  June 4, 2015 - 11:38 am

    @ Frank-

    Well said. I too like to polish my vocabulary by reading diverse comments here. I learn quickly who is genuine and who likes to spout drivel just because t(he)y can.

    As my G’ma said, “If we were all alike, we would be boring”. So I suggest those with short fuses proof read before sending a message. Please!

    Thanks to those who like to be civil and respectful in their posts.


    • JoeBob -  April 11, 2016 - 1:48 pm

      Thank you, brother!

  11. DJ wogawoga -  May 1, 2015 - 9:19 am

    Awwwwwww, c’mon let somebody else have the last word Cody!! :-D

  12. Patty Finn -  April 7, 2015 - 4:23 pm

    Love this aspect of the dictionary site. Had thought I knew the difference. Reading just confirmed what I already knew. Yay! Really like the closing sentence where it explains how to remember the difference of the words discussed.

    • Isabella -  May 20, 2015 - 7:15 am

      Me too! :D

  13. milkandhoney -  April 7, 2015 - 3:26 am

    :-) :-* B-)

  14. Ajay Awasthi -  April 6, 2015 - 12:20 am

    Very good explaining…liked it.

  15. jefferyDodge -  April 4, 2015 - 12:23 pm

    When Cody writes about “ones complements” and “twos complements”, he should be spelling these terms as “1′s complement” and “2′s complement”. Both terms are Computer Science jargon, and refer to how integers (positive and negative whole numbers) are represented in computer memory. The 1′s complement method is simpler, but has two completely different representations of the number 0 (zero). 2′s complement is somewhat more complicated, but has only one representation of 0 (zero); it is also far more widely used.

    If I’m going to trash someone’s post, I had better be qualified, so: I have a doctorate in Computer Science. I took part in the design of the network and computer system of the International Space Station, I do queueing theoretic analysis of computer networks, probability theory, design and analysis of programming languages, information theory, and cryptology.

    • Anna -  April 12, 2015 - 2:30 am

      Mr. Dodge..I have to say that you must be too smart for me..(to or two or is that too….)….

    • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 9:42 am

      How wrong you are. It is often spelt. Actually, just to humour your (pathetic and idiotic) semantics, I opened one of my old assembly books (it seems also that you needed to take a course in programming; pathetic!) and sure enough, it is spelt.

      As for a degree? Because a degree proves everything, yes? See also my point about assembly books (it isn’t only computer science, anyway, and besides, computer science – as a term – is problematic and too general[1]) – you try to belittle over semantics and you actually fail on that. Quite hilarious. Immature and ignorant tosser. (It is also amusing that you list your qualifications here, as if that means anything at all. It means less than your degree does.)

      [1] I invite you to find out various quotes about the flaws in the words ‘computer science’.

      • Frank Casale -  April 29, 2015 - 5:10 pm

        You know, Cody. Sarcasm is one thing. However, you’re not listening to what the man has to say. Instead, you’re showing a bias based on his credentials.
        Sometimes, you have to learn how to speak and how to listen.
        Please, show some respect, class and panache!

      • Lilium G. -  July 7, 2015 - 12:43 pm

        I do not think the previous commenter’s goal was to start an argument. Please refrain from using such harsh words.

      • ashantiqua -  January 29, 2016 - 3:45 pm

        Oh, lordy.

    • Frank Casale -  April 29, 2015 - 4:52 pm

      Dr. Dodge, your input to this discussion is very much appreciated.
      I wish more educators would give their input to this website!

    • ashantiqua -  January 29, 2016 - 3:44 pm

      I don’t know what Cody was talking about, but credential references are for the lame. I mean, are we supposed to simply trust you, or verify them? Either is impractical given this forum.

      An argument’s validity is all that matters, not who it comes from.

  16. Susan -  April 1, 2015 - 7:26 am

    Seriously? How can these two words cause such a stir? These are easy words we have used correctly often! Mr. Cody you just gave me a headache!!! Your comments does not make sense at all!, neither does your spelling! I do, however compliment most of you for your simple comments! When I use the word ‘complement’ I also think of the word ‘complete’. Have a great day everyone and let us be kind to one another in our conversations!

    • Frank Casale -  April 1, 2015 - 5:42 pm

      I agree, Susan. Everyone should ‘ be kind to one another in our conversations’. This website provides a learning service for everyone. Instead of trying to “top out” the next person, we should share our knowledge, collectively.

    • Matt Knighton -  April 1, 2015 - 10:42 pm

      Gee, I don’t think that telling Mr. Cody that he gave you was being particularly kind in that part of your comment to him.

      The technical aspect of his point may be confusing to some, but he should be complimented for his explanation that complemented many peoples’ understanding, thereby enhancing their chances of being complimented for their intellectual prowess in the elite field of dictionaryology.

      • Matt Knighton -  April 1, 2015 - 10:49 pm

        You told him that he gave you a headache. I suppose that’s better than telling him he’s a pain in the neck (which, of course, he is not); but still, that wasn’t nice , and you ought to be at least sort of ashamed of yourself — at least for awhile.

      • Frank Casale -  April 8, 2015 - 10:23 am

        Dictionary-ology. Interesting.

  17. Cat -  March 28, 2015 - 9:00 pm

    Hey, Larkin. Why don’t you go back to the porn sites where you belong? How did a troll like you end up on dictionary.com in the first place?

  18. elena -  March 28, 2015 - 4:02 am

    Well, I’m glad my mother’s tonge is Spanish! Therefore I don’t have problemes with those words. But troubles me hering well educated people making those errors as well as many others, for example, using ‘effect’ (noun) and ‘affect’ (verb) in wrong ways. I believe Universities should introduce some Linguistics subjects for all degrees. Specially for politicians!!!

    • milkandhoney -  April 7, 2015 - 3:29 am

      elena, just trying to be nice, it is spelled tongue and hearing

    • Anna -  April 12, 2015 - 2:31 am


      Isn’t that ‘especially’ ? jus’ askin’…..

    • Jack -  April 17, 2015 - 9:12 pm

      Spelling errors on a dictionary site how ironic.

  19. Maurice -  March 27, 2015 - 10:27 am

    jajajaj u r crazy dude

  20. Vic -  March 27, 2015 - 7:02 am


    • Vic -  March 27, 2015 - 7:05 am

      Seriously, I have no idea what the commenter named Cody is talking about. Does anyone understand him?

      • Frank Casale -  May 1, 2015 - 11:37 am

        In my opinion, I feel that his anger is not being “channeled” properly. He lets his feelings “overwhelm” his thought processes. Or, he is ‘a rebel without a clue’.
        You make the call!

  21. Lindy Loo -  March 27, 2015 - 3:04 am

    Thank you for the explanation and definition between the two words. I was happy to realize even before I discovered http://www.dictionary.com that I’ve used each word correctly in sentences during the past fifty six years.

    However, I do admit using compliment incorrectly a few times but now that I know the differences between compliment and complement, there will be “no excuse” if I make that mistake in the future! lol.

  22. Nat -  March 26, 2015 - 10:59 pm

    How does a complimentary item fit in with the word compliment?

    • crsig -  March 31, 2015 - 9:58 pm

      Interesting point. And I think is up to ones perception. Does a bunch of flowers complete (complement with e) the rooms devote or compliment the person, or both. Which up to ones perception, rather than a fixed factual meaning. An item may be both an “I” and “e” . ie ay captain…

    • KLiMB8 -  April 3, 2015 - 5:24 am

      That question comes to mind for me, as well. It was quite surprising when than connotation popped up at the end. I then wonder if the use complimentary in this sense hints on a thank you, rather than on an add-on.

    • SCLady -  January 12, 2016 - 11:16 am

      Think of it this way. As a complement completes something, a compliment is giving something whether it be words or something free. That is where any “thing” is also a compliment or complimentary.

  23. TJ Larson -  March 26, 2015 - 6:06 pm

    With two generations already of Master’s and Doctorate degree people who don’t know the difference between subjective and objective cases in English – (I have heard PhDs say such things as “Her and me went to the store.”) – I STILL applaud your efforts to educate people in basic language skills. Thank You!

    • Frank Casale -  March 31, 2015 - 5:46 am

      ‘He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.’
      – George Bernard Shaw

      • milkandhoney -  April 7, 2015 - 3:30 am

        Frank Casale, I have heard that comment before :-)

        • Frank Casale -  April 8, 2015 - 6:18 pm

          There’s plenty more, too! Just visit the cryptograms.com site, if you like word games. Or, go to your favorite author(s) quotation web sites.

          • Frank Casale -  April 8, 2015 - 6:25 pm

            And don’t forget, Milk and Honey.CITE YOUR SOURCES!

        • Frank Casale -  April 9, 2015 - 6:37 am

          I don’t know how to use the emoticons, like the smiley face that you put at the end of your blog.

          • Amy -  June 15, 2015 - 2:51 pm

            Frank, to make a smiley face, use a colon and an end parenthesis together: : ) (WITHOUT SPACES) –> :)

          • Frank Casale -  June 19, 2015 - 1:36 pm

            Thank You, Amy.

  24. Carlee -  March 26, 2015 - 5:59 pm

    Ahhh. If only they had made the word complement, into completment… pronounced : com – pleeet – meant.

    • Tracy -  June 5, 2015 - 4:56 pm

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. However, at 56 years of age, this is the first time I’ve ever encountered the word “complement”. I didn’t know it existed! I’ve never heard anyone use it in a sentence. I have frequent contact with highly intelligent people who are also highly educated. I would have thought that they were using the word “compliment” in a very odd manner if I had encountered the usage mentioned in the article. I chose to read this article as “compliment” was the ONLY word mentioned on the site today that I’d ever encountered before and was surprised there was another word, “complement”, to vie with it. All the other words on the site today are words I’ve never needed to use, ever. I was surprised however, when one of my very intelligent friends did not know what a “zephyr” was. (I had used it in a poem.)

      • Frank Casale -  June 10, 2015 - 4:27 pm

        Tracy, I don’t know if you were familiar with high school geometry class and the different types of angles- specifically, supplementary and complementary angles.
        Also, while we’re taking a brief stop into nostalgia( I promise not spend too much time here) you might remember object complements and subject complements in English class.

        • Frank Casale -  June 10, 2015 - 4:30 pm

          Correction: (I promise NOT to spend TOO much time here!)

      • Frank Casale -  June 15, 2015 - 5:24 am

        ‘Highly intelligent people who are also ‘highly educated’.
        Normally, the assumption would be ‘highly intelligent people’ ARE ‘highly educated’.
        Today, it’s subject for debate!

      • The Bookworm -  June 17, 2015 - 7:10 am

        How can someone not know what a zephyr is?! That is preposterous!

        • Frank Casale -  June 19, 2015 - 1:43 pm

          First, a person has to KNOW how to SPELL the word, before looking it up on Dictionary.com!

  25. Carlee -  March 26, 2015 - 5:56 pm

    Look, this is completely unrelated to the topic at hand! If you’re going to talk like that, don’t post it publicly on the internet! | |
    ° °

    • elena -  March 28, 2015 - 4:07 am

      You are very right, Carlee, this is not a place for ignorant people’s participation. We just want to learn a little more and no wasting our time reading stupidities.

    • Ajay Awasthi -  April 6, 2015 - 12:30 am

      I agree with you Carlee, this is not a place for writing nonsense!!
      We devote out time to this great website to understand right use of a language and not to read or write offensive things.

    • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 10:05 am

      I assume that is to me. If not, ignore. Otherwise, maybe this will help (although I seriously doubt it, given all the drama here) others before they too respond to something completely unrelated to my post. Frankly I don’t see why they need to respond at all! It was a very minor point:

      It was a sarcastic way of making a point that was indirectly related to this article. The fact you think the sarcasm is the point is rather funny to me. Next time, keep in mind that not everything is what it appears to be.

  26. Wm Terrell Danley Sr -  March 26, 2015 - 4:04 pm

    My compliments for your explaination… It complements my understanding. Did I use it correctly?

    • Maurice -  March 27, 2015 - 10:26 am

      you did spell those words perfectly

      • Frank Casale -  April 2, 2015 - 7:56 pm

        No, let’s be honest!

        • Frank Casale -  April 2, 2015 - 8:03 pm

          Compliments and complements were used in their respective contexts. There is no “i” in explanation.

          • Frank Casale -  April 3, 2015 - 7:01 pm

            Correction: there is only one “i” in explanation.

    • john -  March 29, 2015 - 10:08 pm

      Well said; nice one.

  27. Karen -  March 26, 2015 - 2:32 pm

    This is one I really never thought of until it was pointed out to me. Thanks, I enjoyed it.

  28. Rich -  March 26, 2015 - 2:09 pm

    @Cody…you’re a moron

  29. Ricky Forguson -  March 26, 2015 - 11:44 am

    Well stated…….well done.

  30. abeir elhamwi -  March 26, 2015 - 11:13 am

    Please send me more emails

  31. john stover -  March 25, 2015 - 11:28 am

    I always said, “I like compliments”, which reminded me that the word is spelled with “I”.

  32. Cody -  March 24, 2015 - 1:57 pm

    “So how do you keep these two straight? Just remember that if something complements something, it completes it.”

    So THAT is what complements means in twos complements and ones complements? Thanks for clarifying that. Too bad it doesn’t work that way. Yes, yes, perhaps an extreme example but still pointing out the fact that simplification doesn’t always work (and you can argue that it is certain people that failed here except that there’s other examples unrelated to computers). I’ll refrain from criticising something else on your part, related to my point.

    • Jim -  March 26, 2015 - 11:05 am

      Cody, I don’t understand your comment. It seems as though you have something interesting to say but I don’t get it. Would you please clarify?

      • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 9:53 am

        The post was mostly ridicule while simultaneously dropping a reference to something (that is not on topic and detracts from the point). There was a point though. The point is simplification doesn’t always work, and while it often does it doesn’t always. To think that there is this much drama caused by such a silly comment is rather nauseating.

        • Frank Casale -  April 28, 2015 - 5:47 am

          Cody, if there is something that ‘is not on topic and detracts from the point’, DROP IT! And stick to the issue at hand!

      • Frank Casale -  April 30, 2015 - 6:02 pm

        Jim, your mission (should you decide to accept it) is to decipher Cody’s message, and clarify it for all of us!
        This message will self-destruct in five seconds- Good Luck, Jim!

        • Tracy -  June 5, 2015 - 5:05 pm

          Ha! Ha! Ha! Funny! Good one!

    • Everett -  March 26, 2015 - 12:42 pm

      Am I missing something? It does work in your example as far I can understand. The two numbers complete each other to form the desired result. If you change one of the two numbers, you need a different number to complement it (to make it complete the desired whole).

      I imagine there are examples where the simplification doesn’t work (like any rule in the English language), but the examples you gave work just fine by my logic.

      • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 9:47 am

        Yes, you’re missing something. You’re missing a lot. It has absolutely nothing to do with ‘two numbers’ and neither does it have to do with ‘one number’. No, I’m not going to explain it beyond that.

        • Frank Casale -  April 30, 2015 - 5:43 pm

          Cody, If your audience is ‘missing something’, they have a right to know what their missing!
          You have to explain yourself. This is the basis of communicating to other people!

          • Frank Casale -  May 1, 2015 - 11:24 am

            Correction: What “they’re” missing! Sorry for the mistake, Cody. ‘Tis a human mistake!

        • Audun -  May 21, 2016 - 11:22 pm

          1′s complement and 2′s complement are two different ways of expressing a negative number in binary. The two numbers are the negative, for example -2, and the positive (2). In both 1′s complement or 2′s complement the two numbers should add up to a defined result.

          This fits the meaning of complement perfectly, as you can see on the wikipedia article about Method of complement in mathematics and computing.

    • Vic -  March 27, 2015 - 7:02 am


    • Frank Casale -  March 28, 2015 - 7:18 pm

      Some constructive criticism, Cody. Organize your thoughts before putting them into print.

      • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 9:57 am

        I was using sarcasm to make a point. A point that most – if not all – missed. A point which should not have caused any drama at all. My thoughts were organised, but apparently it is beyond most people. Not uncommon for me to bewilder others. So much the better as far as I am concerned.

        • Frank Casale -  April 27, 2015 - 4:21 pm

          Cody, there’s nothing wrong with using sarcasm to emphasize a point. No drama here! But, if you want your sarcasm to be effective, make sure your audience isn’t bewildered!
          That way they’ll get the message!

        • Tracy -  June 5, 2015 - 5:16 pm

          Cody, You stated that it is “Not uncommon for me to bewilder others.” If, when you write or speak, others don’t understand you, why bother trying to communicate at all? What is your goal? If your goal is to bewilder people, well… you are very good at it.

    • Osun Thyruss -  March 31, 2015 - 5:23 am

      This should help dis-confusify your mistaking the message board for a sandwich board.

      I learned a mnemonic from dearly demonic Ana Gram.
      She said, “For Compliments, just remember that ‘Lips Comment’, which works and sounds nicer than ‘Mom Pens Clit’.”

      I found it far easier to remember Compliments = Lips Comment than to struggle with Complements = Men Smelt Cop. I hope you don’t take this as criticising part of your computer related point, I just thought extreme simplification examples pointed out certain unrelated failed people on your part.

      • Frank Casale -  April 6, 2015 - 3:37 pm

        I apologize. I am confusably befuddled by the word ‘dis-confusify’.

        • Frank Casale -  April 8, 2015 - 6:29 am

          …….confusedly befuddled?

      • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 9:57 am

        I wasn’t confused. Thanks for trying to help though.

    • milkandhoney -  April 7, 2015 - 3:23 am

      Huh? What is Cody trying to say? Not trying to make trouble here, just sharing my thoughts. :-)

      • Frank Casale -  April 15, 2015 - 12:29 pm

        Milk and Honey, in Cody’s defense, I believe he knows in his mind what he wants to say. However, his thoughts are “all over the place”.
        In other words, he has a hard time bringing the subjective to the objective!

        • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 12:34 pm

          No. I’m not at all confused. No, my thoughts aren’t all over the place. Others, however, are confused about what I wrote. Then they react in a variety of ways – as is expected for humans.

          • Frank Casale -  April 27, 2015 - 4:30 pm

            Cody, On behalf of all humankind, I apologize!

          • Frank Casale -  May 14, 2015 - 8:34 pm

            Cody, I didn’t say you were ‘confused’. You said that!
            Here’s the scoop: When I read your blogs, I have trouble distinguishing between when you’re being serious and when you’re being sarcastic.
            For the most part, I understand the parentheses that signal the “break in thought” or sarcasm. However, when you put your thoughts in print, you also have to be conscious of punctuation.
            At times, I’ve had to read your blogs two or three times because of where the punctuation was stressed in the sentence(s).
            I’m not a grammarian, nor am I a linguist. I’m here to polish on my English skills as well as other people blogging on this site. In short, when you write or print (no sarcasm intended) take a breath, as the teachers would say. Use commas where they are needed. Especially in print journalism!
            In my opinion, this will make you a better communicator, thus more effective to your reading audience.

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