Easily confused: compliment and complement

This piece is another in the series I’m doing in response to problems I notice cropping up in my clients’ documents. Compliment and complement are more words that are often used incorrectly.

Compliment

A compliment is what you’re doing when you tell someone how wonderful their work is. Hey, that piece is brilliantly written is a compliment. Unless you’re being sarcastic and British, of course.

Complement

Complement has a couple of meanings. If a company has a full complement of staff, it has the number it needs to make its staff roster complete. Complement here means a number of, in particular what is needed to make something complete.

Complement can also mean something which goes well with something else, or adds something special to it, such as Their whistle-blowing policy complemented their policy on workplace bullying.

If you use compliment in the example above , what you’re doing is telling the world that the whistle-blowing policy is being extremely nice (complimentary, in fact) to the workplace bullying policy.

Remembering the difference

Use this sentence, which is a compliment, and has several i’s in it to help you remember the word you’re after here is compliment.

I like your eyes.

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