For far too long those crazy Latin-speaking people have influenced English to the detriment of high school students everywhere. Until we can stop them, here’s some information on compliment versus complement. No doubt the confusion started with the fact that they are pronounced alike and used to have similar meanings. Fortunately, they evolved into separate words.
The older of the two words, complement with an E derived from the Latin complementum. As a noun, complement means “a thing that completes or brings to perfection” and “a number or quantity of something required to make a group complete.” As a verb, it means “to add to (something) in a way that enhances or improves it; make perfect.”
Noun 1: The lyrics provided the perfect complement to the music.
Noun 2: As of today, we have a full complement of employees.
Verb: The navy blazer complements the tan slacks for a classic look.
If something complements something else, it completes it or enhances it. A handbag can complement an outfit, and a throw pillow can complement a sofa. Remember the color wheel from grade school art class? Complementary colors were those that were directly across from each other. The contrast between them enhanced their relationship: orange and blue, yellow and purple, red and green.
Remember: if something complements something, it completes it.
Compliment with an I also derives from the Latin root completmentum, which explains some of the early overlap of meaning. It was introduced to English by way of the Spanish cumplimiento, via the route of Italian and French. You can pay someone a compliment, or compliment someone for a job well done.
As a noun, compliment means “a polite expression of praise or admiration.” As a verb, it means “to politely congratulate or praise (someone) for something.”
Noun: George paid me an enormous compliment.
Verb: Marcia complimented Darren on his academic achievements.
Hopefully, today’s The Weight of Words helps with the compliment versus complement confusion. If not, blame those pesky Latin-speaking folks.