'Complement' vs 'Compliment': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on May 11, 2023

Do you need to know the difference between 'complement' vs. 'compliment?' You are not alone. These two words are homophones. They have similar pronunciations but different spellings and meanings. So, it can be challenging to remember the difference between the two.

You do not need to worry, though. I will give you definitions for each, usage tips, sample sentences, and more.

Are you in a hurry?

If so, here is a quick answer: 

  • 'Complement' is a noun or verb that means to complete something or make it better by accompanying it. 
  • 'Compliment' is a noun or verb term for kind recognition. 

While that gives you an idea of the difference, these two words confuse many native English speakers and proficient writers. It helps to study these two in-depth. So, keep reading!

What is the Difference Between 'Complement' vs. 'Compliment?'

I will never forget walking into the kitchen at my office one day and seeing a sign taped to the refrigerator explaining the difference between 'complement' and 'compliment.' Another co-worker brought some pastries to work and attached a note that said:

                   'Complementary pastries, help yourself!'

When telling someone something is free, the correct word is 'complimentary.' I felt bad for the kind co-worker who quickly jotted the flawed note on the way to their desk.

After seeing it, I swore I would never mix the two up, but I still have to look up the definition occasionally to ensure my usage is grammatically correct.

So, to make it clear, 'complementary' means something that adds value to something when the two are joined together. The note my co-worker left would have been correct if it said:

Help yourself. Complimentary breakfast. Pastries with complementary fillings and freshly brewed coffee. 

Notice that complimentary means free, and complementary describes the filling in the pastries. Eating the pastries would be like a croissant or biscuit, but with the complementary filling; they are a breakfast treat.

Definition of 'Complement': What Does 'Complement' Mean?

'Complement' can be a noun or a verb that, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means:

  • To add something that improves or completes

As a noun, it means:

  • Something completes another
  • A complete set needed or provided
  • A mathematical term for an angle that equals a right angle when added to another
  • A list of elements that do not belong to a group
  • A musical interval that completes an octave
  • A group of blood proteins that works with antibodies to destroy particulate antigens

Synonyms of 'Complement'

Knowing synonyms of a word helps you understand what alternate terms are grammatically correct.

So, here are the synonyms of 'complement.'

  • Addendum
  • Attachment
  • Supplement
  • Exhibit
  • Accessory
  • Correlate
  • Embellishment
  • Additive
  • Appendage
  • Extra
  • Add-on
  • Accouterment
  • Accompaniment
  • Enhance
  • Upgrade
  • Finish off
  • Adorn
  • Perfect
  • Improve
  • Adorn
  • Embellish
  • Enrich
  • Decorate

Definition of 'Compliment': What Does 'Compliment' Mean?

'Compliment' can also be a noun meaning:

  • Something free
  • A kind sentiment indicating appreciation, adoration, respect, honor, or recognition
  • Courtesy of

It can also be a verb meaning:

  • To express affection, gratitude, or respect
  • To acknowledge someone's positive qualities

Synonyms of 'Compliment'

  • Commendation
  • Cite
  • Hommage
  • Kudo
  • Praise
  • Recognition

Phrases Containing 'Compliment'

  • Compliments of the chef
  • Compliments of yours truly
  • Compliments of the house
  • Complimentary continental breakfast

How to Use 'Complement' vs. 'Compliment'

Even after learning the definitions of these two words, they can be confusing. So, here is a quick usage guide to help you keep them straight.

  • Use 'complement' to say that something increases the value or enhances something.

For example, you may hear people say:

                    The sauce complements the steak perfectly. Each bite is better than the last. 

  • Use 'compliment' to say that something is free or to describe an expression of adoration.

For example, you could say:

He complimented her all day, telling her that her hair was glossy and beautiful, her skin was like silk, and she was the most intelligent person he knew. 

In the past, 'compliment' and 'complement' were interchangeable. Over time, the two words developed different definitions, and neither is listed as a synonym of the other.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Complement' and 'Compliment'

Learning proper pronunciation is a huge part of learning to speak English or becoming a better writer. If you cannot pronounce a term, it could make you hesitant to use it.

So, follow this pronunciation guide.

  • You pronounce 'complement' with this phonetic spelling:


  • You also pronounce 'compliment' with the phonetic spelling:


As you can see, the pronunciation of both is the same, which is one of the reasons many confuse these words.

Examples of 'Complement' vs. 'Compliment' Used in a Sentence

Seeing the difference in how you use the terms in sentences will also help cement the information in your brain.

Take a look:


  • Do you have more sauce? I ran out, and it complements the dish so well that I do not want to finish my meal without it.
  • I am so happy that you met Ken! He complements you perfectly. The two of you are a match made in heaven!
  • Please complement the package with any addendums, attachments, copies, or supplemental documents required before you ship it.
  • What would you like to try tonight? I suggest the salmon with garlic, shallot, butter sauce, and our signature triple whipped sour cream and butter mashed potatoes topped with our sauteed onion sherry reduction sauce. For your salad, the jumbo lump crab and cherry smoked bacon wedge, and authentic Caesar complement the salmon well.


  • Order anything on the menu you would like to try. Your money is not good here. The meal is compliments of the chef!
  • We have received so many compliments on our organization's dedicated customer satisfaction team.
  • Today's presentation is compliments of the 123 Company.
  • Place your compliments and suggestions in the box in your manager's office.
  • Please compliment her on her recent success. She deserves the recognition.

Final Advice on the Difference Between 'Complement' vs. 'Compliment'

You are likely an expert on the difference between 'complement' vs. 'compliment' now, but here is a quick recap:

  • 'Complement' is a noun or verb that means to complete or enhance something.
  • 'Compliment' is a noun or verb that means free or a statement that shows admiration, adoration, or appreciation. 

If you ever get these two words mixed up in the future, just come back for a quick review, and visit the confusing words section frequently to learn about other terms that people misuse.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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