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A complement or a compliment?

Another common confusion is between these two words which sound the same but confusing one letter changes the meaning

Complement (with an E) means something that completes:

She’s a complement to the surgical team.
complements the surgical team.

Compliment (with an I) means praise or admiration:

The new surgeon gets a lot of compliments for her excellent work.
complimented the new surgeon on her excellent work.

Compliment is like a gift and even though gifts are free, we say:

She was paid many compliments after the successful surgery.


They were very complimentary about her superior surgical skills.

Complimentary can also mean a gift when services or items are provided free of charge:

Pay for 10 massages and get a complimentary box set of essential oils.

But complementary means to enhance or emphasise the qualities of someone or something else:

These essential oils are complementary, so are often used together.

And of course:

More and more people are using complementary medicine, such as acupuncture and massage, in addition to traditional medicine.

To remember the difference, think E for complEment/complEte and I for complIment/gIft.

You can find more explanations for common confusions here, here and here.

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© Christina Wielgolawski