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"Compliment" Versus "Complement"

Do you get confused when trying to spell compliment (or is it complement)? Here's a memory trick to help you remember the difference.

By
Mignon Fogarty,

It can be difficult to remember the two spellings and meanings of the words we pronounce as "compliment." They’re homophones—one is spelled with an i and the other is spelled with an e, and even though they sound the same, they mean different things.

Compliment

A compliment, with an i, is a kind or flattering remark. If a friend says he likes your new shoes, he’s giving you a compliment. He’s complimenting you.

Complement

A complement, with an e, is a full crew or a set, and when something complements something else, it means they go well together. You might talk about a picture frame that complements a photo or the crew complement needed to operate a ship.

A Trick to Remember the Difference

To remember the difference between the spellings of these words, be a nice person and tell yourself

I like to give compliments.

Put the emphasis on the I when you say or think it. The I can remind you that the type of flattering compliment is spelled with an i

[Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared January 29, 2012.]

 

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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