Two commonly confused words are compliment and complement. It’s easy to see why. After all, they sound the same.

Use compliment when you are talking about an expression of admiration or praise. For example:

  • When I wear my new jacket, I frequently receive compliments.
  • My boss complimented me on my punctuality and orderly approach to my work.
  • When someone pays you a compliment, try not to blush. Just enjoy it!

A complement is something that completes something else. You might go to a restaurant. The food was delicious, but the combination of the food and wine made the meal memorable. So you might say that the wine was a perfect complement to the food. Perhaps the confusion is caused because a complement expresses the idea that things are better together, and that intuitively seems as if one is praising the other! Other examples are:

  • Her jewelry really complements her new outfit. (Each looks good on its own, but the combination really works.)
  • I don’t view elearning as an alternative to instructor-led training, but as a complement. (Our program needs both components to be complete.)
  • Michael’s skills as an analyst complement Latifa’s skills as an articulate advocate for the company. Together they provide ideal leadership for the company. (Both Latifa and Michael are great, but in very different ways. Their combined strengths give them real power.)