Tittle Tuesday – Compliment vs. Complement

Coffee is not complemented by grammar.

Complement and Compliment 

Two similar sounding words that differ completely in meaning, though they did come from the same root! Personally, out of the two, I tend to like “complement” better than “compliment.” I love the idea of two things pairing together so well that they deserve their own word focusing on that fact (and I admit, maybe I’m not quite sure how to handle a “compliment.”) If you have trouble remembering which to use when writing, then hopefully today’s notes can help you out in the future!

All definitions from from Merriam-Webster since I try to follow the Chicago Manual of Style.

First of all, let’s look at where the two words come from:

  • Complement = from Latin, complementum meant completion and fulfilment 
  • (Latin -> Italian: complimento a fulfilment of courtesy requirements; Italian -> French)
  • Compliment = from French, compliment meaning an expression of respect, affection, or admiration.

So one’s from Latin, and the other came from French via Italian, and previously via Latin. (I always love seeing where words come from!) However, onward to definitions:

Compliment -> an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration

A person can give a compliment to another person, or an animal, but usually this is said, or at least it’s an expression from one person to another. 

  • It’s rare to receive a compliment from my mother. 
  • I complimented him the other day on graduating. 
  • I believe that when my dog barks, he’s really complimenting me. 

Complement -> something that fills up, completes, or makes better or perfect

Complements on the other hand, can be when items, people, or animals are paired together. 

  • I think peanut butter complements blueberry jelly best.
  • Coffee and hedgehogs complement me (which is why my office has many hedgehog friends in it)!
  • I don’t think anyone says that Romeo complemented Juliet; Bonnie and Clyde seems like a better power couple.

I know two tricks to help remember which spelling to use for the meaning that you’re wanting:

  • I compliment you! -> I (if you’re a nice person) am giving a compliment, and is already in the spelling of compliment!
  • Two “e“s complement each other well! -> having two of the same letter completes a match and fulfills the purpose of matching!
A quiz? I need coffee!

If  you’d like other resources to ponder over the usage of these words, check out the links below!

Correct or Incorrect Pop Quiz! (answers will be given next Tittle Tuesday)
Looking for if the word choice is incorrect, not if you agree/disagree with the sentence.

  1. Humanities aren’t competing with the sciences, the two areas complement each other.  
  2. Cinnamon quills compliment coffee. 
  3. Try to give out compliments when you can, not when you need something. 
  4. Xena and Gabrielle complemented each other because one’s weakness was the other’s strength. 
  5. Backhanded complements are horrid things!

Have a great day and happy wording!

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