Difference between Compliment and Complement

Key difference: The two words, ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’ are that sound the same but have different spelling and actually mean different things. ‘Compliment’ means to praise or say something nice, whereas ‘Complement’ means to complete.

The two words, ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’ are classic examples of homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spelling and actually mean different things.  These types of words are often confused as many people think that because they sound the same, they are the same. However, that is not the case.

Compliment and Complement are also further confusing as both have the same root words. Both come from the Latin complementum, which basically means “that which fills up or completes”. However, while complement is a direct descendant from Latin, the other one, i.e. ‘compliment’ takes a longer route coming from Latin, with the Spanish cumplimiento, to Italian compliment, then from French compliment, from which it enters English. Due to this long route, the meaning of the term has changed a bit.

The term ‘complement’ means the same at its Latin counterpart, i.e. to “contribute extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasize its quality.” This basically means to complete or improve something. For example: Those shoes really complement the dress. Here the term refers to how the shoes match or complete the outfit, and possibly make it better as a result. 

Compliment, on the other hand, means to ‘express praise or respect’ for something or more commonly, someone. A compliment is when someone ‘expresses praise or admiration.’ For example: Those are some nice shoes. This is a compliment as it is saying something nice about the shoes and by extension about the person wearing the shoes. It does not matter what the person is wearing the shoes with, whether they are matching or completing an outfit or not, or even if they are wearing them or not. The shoes should just be in a showroom and a person could be commenting on them. Hence, compliment is very different from complement, even if the difference in spelling is just one word.

The term is also used slightly differently. It may be used as a compliment in itself, or to mean that the person means to give a compliment to someone else. For example: “My compliments to the chef.” Here is doesn’t sound like the speaker is anything at all. He is not praising the chef or saying anything nice. However, the implication here is that the speaker wants to give the chef a compliment and he is doing so in few works. The speaker could have also said, “The chef did a great job; my compliments to the chef.” Instead the speaker just said the second half, and the first half is implied.

In summary, ‘Compliment’ means to praise or say something nice, whereas ‘Complement’ means to complete.

Comparison between Compliment and Complement:

 

Compliment

Complement

Definition

A polite expression of praise or admiration.

An act or circumstance that implies praise or respect.

Congratulations or praise expressed to someone

Formal greetings, especially when sent as a message.

A thing that contributes extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasize its quality.

 

Etymology (Wiktionary)

Borrowing from French compliment, itself a borrowing of Italian complimento, which in turn is a borrowing from Spanish cumplimiento, which is borrowed from Latin complementum ‎(“that which fills up or completes”).

From Old French, from Latin complementum ‎(“that which fills up or completes”), from compleō ‎(“I fill up, I complete”) (English complete).

Meaning

To praise someone or something

Refers to the fact that something completes something else.

Examples

That is a nice dress.

Those are some nice shoes.

You look good.

You are very pretty.

You did a good job.

My compliments to the chef.

The purse really complements the outfit.

The blazer really complements your look

The tie really complements the suit.

The rice really complements the dish.

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (Compliment and Complement),
Wiktionary (Compliment and Complement), Grammarly, The Wordist, Grammarist
Image Courtesy: healingconversationswithmildredlynn.com, inform.tmforum.org

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