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.

Easily confused: practice/practise

As I proofread documents, there are some problems that come up again and again, and I’m hoping that these blog pieces will give you quick and easy ways to remember the difference between words you muddle up.

Practice and practise are often confused in British English (American English helpfully uses just the one form, practice). Practice is a noun, and practise is a verb. Here are some examples of correct usage:

Practice

Practice is a noun.

She hated piano practice.
Practice makes perfect.
She sold her accountancy practice.

Practise

Practise is a verb.

They hadn’t practised their spellings.
The more you practise, the easier playing the piano will be.
We’re practising our cookery tonight.

When it goes wrong

Here are some real life examples where it’s gone wrong:

We have in place ongoing training and development practises.
We adopt a wide range of supervision practises.

In both these cases, the word in question is a noun, and so the sentences should read:

We have in place ongoing training and development practices.
We adopt a wide range of supervision practices.

How to remember the difference

There is a simply way to remember the difference. I use the sentence I’m going to choir practice to practise singing to help me remember which word is which. I know choir practice is a noun*, and that I therefore need the ‘c’ form. There’s also the ‘c’ there in ‘choir’ to remind me which word to use. If I add in what we’re going to choir practice to do, that makes it even easier, with the in practise (the verb) matching the ‘s’ in ‘singing’.

I’m going to choir practice to practise singing.

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*Actually it’s a compound noun, but for the sake of simplicity I’m ignoring that for the moment!

NOTE: this piece refers to British English. American English uses practice for both noun and verb forms.