Confusing word of the day – compliment/complement

Everyone loves receiving a compliment. It can make someone’s day to be told they’re looking well, or that their hair is nice.

Occasionally, you might be offered a complimentary product or service – in other words, a FREE product or service. That’s great too.

However, it has become very common to see businesses offering COMPLEMENTARY products.

Unfortunately for them, this means something completely different. Rather than giving something free, it suggests that their original product or service was incomplete!

So, which is which?

The word COMPLIMENT¬†(with an ‘i’) generally refers to praise or to something offered for free.

You can pay someone a compliment.


You can offer someone a complimentary gift.

On the other hand, COMPLEMENT (with an ‘e’) generally refers to something that completes.

So, you could have a full complement of staff (meaning all your staff are working).


A nice new scarf could complement your favourite outfit (meaning it completes the outfit)

(There are a couple of other uses for the word complement, but for now let’s just concentrate on the most common – and most often misused!)

So, there you have it…next time you’re tempted to offer someone a complementary gift, maybe you should think again…


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