View Full Version : Complements vs. Compliments

Deborah Secor
12-30-2007, 12:07 AM
comˇpleˇment (kmpl-mnt)
a. Something that completes, makes up a whole, or brings to perfection.
b. The quantity or number needed to make up a whole: shelves with a full complement of books.
c. Either of two parts that complete the whole or mutually complete each other.
2. An angle related to another so that the sum of their measures is 90°.
3. Grammar A word or words used after a verb to complete a predicate construction; for example, the phrase to eat ice cream in We like to eat ice cream.
4. Music An interval that completes an octave when added to a given interval.
5. The full crew of officers and enlisted personnel required to run a ship.
6. Immunology A complex system of proteins found in normal blood plasma that combines with antibodies to destroy pathogenic bacteria and other foreign cells. Also called alexin.
7. Mathematics & Logic For a universal set, the set of all elements in the set that are not in a specified subset.
8. A complementary color.
tr.v. (-mnt) comˇpleˇmentˇed, comˇpleˇmentˇing, comˇpleˇments
To serve as a complement to: Roses in a silver bowl complement the handsome cherry table.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin complmentum, from complre, to fill out; see complete.]

comˇpliˇment (kmpl-mnt)
1. An expression of praise, admiration, or congratulation.
2. A formal act of civility, courtesy, or respect.
3. compliments Good wishes; regards: Extend my compliments to your parents. See Usage Note.
tr.v. comˇpliˇmentˇed, comˇpliˇmentˇing, comˇpliˇments
1. To pay a compliment to.
2. To show fondness, regard, or respect for by giving a gift or performing a favor.

[French, from Italian complimento, from Spanish cumplimiento, from cumplir, to complete, from Latin complre, to fill up : com-, intensive pref.; see com- + plre, to fill; see pel-1 in Indo-European roots.]

Usage Note: Complement and compliment, though quite distinct in meaning, are sometimes confused because they are pronounced the same. As a noun, complement means "something that completes or brings to perfection" (The antique silver was a complement to the beautifully set table); used as a verb it means "to serve as a complement to." The noun compliment means "an expression or act of courtesy or praise" (They gave us a compliment on our beautifully set table), while the verb means "to pay a compliment to."

A complementary color is not the same as a compliment. There. I've said it. Okay, forgive an old writer who cares about such silly things as the difference in an E or an I used to distinguish two such similar words. However, when we first began the Pastel Society, one of our generous and well-meaning ladies sent out a letter "with our complements". We had so many people mention it as being such a clever a play on words we played it straight. :rolleyes:

So...thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Now I don't care! :lol:


David Patterson
12-30-2007, 12:46 AM
I compliment you for your excellent explanation. I will now be content when contemplating how I want to compliment another artists complement of work.:D


12-30-2007, 01:42 AM
Deborah you crack me up! :lol: So glad you posted this. I'm always getting confused and am often too lazy to check it with the dictionary. Now I don't have to...all need to do is come here. :clap: But now I need someone to fix my thread heading about complimentary colors since I can't. :)

I hope this gets put on a sticky so I don't have to search for each time. :wink2:

12-30-2007, 02:02 AM
I can't even blame it on my Canadian spelling. :o But I do get away with colour.:D


Donna A
12-30-2007, 03:24 AM
Interesting, Deborah! Thanks. And both words are from the Latin complre, to fill up. I have a great fascination with word origins. Yum! Take good care! Donna ;-}

12-30-2007, 07:24 AM
Thank goodness you shared that - I can feel your relief!:) Don't know if I've made this mistake in the past but am happy to know better now! Thanks.

12-30-2007, 07:38 AM
no wonder you get so upset with me - from now on I promise to 'compliment' the 'complements' of your work!!!!!:lol:

12-30-2007, 09:34 AM
I get away, and off the hook, both with "compliments" and "colour", as I'm an "ailen"! :-)

Deborah, I so well understand you, I get the same kind of feelings re my own language. We even have a joking (colloquial) expression for people like you and me, freely translated it is "language police". Language police detect lawbreakers, bad spelling, and firmly but kindly ask people to mend their ways. :-D They are not authorized to issue fines, though, and can't put people to jail for abusing the language.

Complements, now, don't they look especailly good together? Green tells Red "my, you look really nice today". Ergo, a "complementary compliment".
Makes complite sense... complett... no... complately ...compliamentary -- makes *perfect* sense!

Message completed.

Deborah Secor
12-30-2007, 09:43 AM
:lol: The one that always trips me up is further and farther. Still can't tell you the difference, nor do I really care except in a professional sense. Nor do I really care about complement ve. compliment in the overall sense. But since we're all artists, and since we all WRITE about art (here at WC--maybe I should say TYPE), I thought I'd mention it just this one time.

And you know what? We all know we're talking about opposite colors (colours, if you will) on the color wheel--right? :D


12-30-2007, 10:14 AM
LOL, a good chuckle for Sunday morning-- nice play, Deborah!

Charlie, your post was a gas! We have language police here, too, and I have to confess that I've been guilty at times.:o But, like Deborah I've learned that most times the important thing is to listen and respond to the meaning people are trying to convey.

OK, I admit it, there are still some things that make me grit my teeth (less/fewer is one). Why does it matter? Dunno. Written English is a challenge, because the spelling doesn't match the pronounciation, and there are so many nit-picky differences. It's like a puzzle. No wonder we get confused! But it is a great language for plays on words as you and David and Bluefish so aptly demonstrated. Wish I could do that!

Dayle Ann

12-30-2007, 12:48 PM
Thank you to the little moderator angel :angel: for fixing my heading on my thread! :clap: Now I kind of look like I know what I'm talking about. :)

This is a little off topic, but one thing that bothers me is recently it has become popular, particularly by the news media, use the spelling "adviser" as opposed to "advisor". Can't exactly tell you why it bothers me, but it does. I think its because "adviser" seems to be a less elegant way to spell it.

Isn't the English language interesting? I wonder if other languages have the similar issues?


Shirl Parker
12-30-2007, 01:55 PM
I'm with you on that less/fewer one Dayle Ann.


12-30-2007, 01:59 PM
Complements, now, don't they look especailly good together? Green tells Red "my, you look really nice today". Ergo, a "complementary compliment".

Message completed.

Charlie this is a marvelous devise to remember which way to spell "the" word when referring to color/colour :clap:

rEd and grEEn are complEments
The same may be said of bluE and OrangE
but I guess we'll have to ignore yEllow and vIolEt :lol:

Mandy now we don't need to have a sticky placed on this thread. :)

Thank you CharlIE


Kathryn Wilson
12-30-2007, 04:09 PM
:angel: yeah!

12-30-2007, 08:20 PM

Great Post! I am sure I am one of the guilty parties! I pledge that I will double check the spelling before mentioning compliments or complements, but quite frankly, I have already forgotten which is which!


12-30-2007, 08:25 PM

If compliment has an "i" and complement, an "e", how are they pronounced the same way ?
Four is not pronounced as For and Two is not pronounced as To or Too.
Or am I missing something here ? :-)
One of the most common errors that I see is mixing "then" with "than".

Kind regards,


12-31-2007, 01:37 AM

If compliment has an "i" and complement, an "e", how are they pronounced the same way ?
Four is not pronounced as For and Two is not pronounced as To or Too.
Or am I missing something here ? :-)
One of the most common errors that I see is mixing "then" with "than".

Kind regards,


:lol: :lol: :lol: Well José English is a very confusing language. Not only is there "English", but there's British English (the "mother tongue so to speak), and also American English, Canadian English, Australian English, and many other former colonies of Great Britain that each have their own variations on pronounciation and meaning. Heck even within America there's northeastern English, southeastern English, north mid-states English, south mid-staates English, western English and even a difference between some of the states within those catagories when it comes to pronounciation!

Four is pronounced the same as for and even fore!
and yes, two is pronounced the same as to and too!
It gets even worse because many words are spelled differently, but pronounced the same way (such as complement and compliment), and some words are spelled the same way, but pronounced differently! Red and read are pronounced the same, but read is also pronounce like reed! How about this sentence? I started to read the red book about reeds, but once I started reading it I found I'd already read it.... Is it any wonder so many people find learning English so difficult?

I had a friend who lived in Australia for awhile, and they had great fun over the differences is some words and phrases. "Nappies" in America are used to wipe ones hands or face after eating, but in Australia they are a babies diaper (bottom covering)! My friend's husband was greatly teased when after a large dinner my friend declared she was really "stuffed" - meaning in the U.S. that she was overly full of food. They quickly learned in Australia it meant she was expecting a baby!!! :lol: These are only two examples of many she shared that we all laughed about.

Hey Don - look at Charlie's post about how to remember which "complement" is about color/colour! It's easy to remember using that method. :)


Donna A
12-31-2007, 03:14 AM
Great observations, Peggy---and 'word stories,' too! Thanks! The story of how English was codified is so fascinating---and it's a bit horrifying, too when one realizes what a relatively few people decided on has led to soooo many challenges and so much confusion to ever so many!

And must add one of my many pet peeves---and drastically common---using the word anxious for the word eager. Anxious has the same root and connotation as anxiety, angst and so forth. So saying "I'm so anxious for my new box of pastels to arrive"---oh, goodness---what exactly am I afraid of???

We've just lost a huge amount of meaning for so many words. And then there are other words we need to add to our language---and anyone who would help me add these two, I'd be delighted!

One is "childful." I see "childful" as a wholesome, fresh, full-of-awe view of the world that mercifully,"some adults manage to keep with them. Childish has such a negative connotation. I think the more "childful" we artists can be, the more creative and joyful we can be---without loosing the wonders we've gained from maturing.

The other word is "selfful" and I see as a quality of both taking care of self, nurturing in healthy ways of the mind, body and spirit---and to also live in one's truth and integrity---and more. Selfish has that very negative connotation, as well.

Anyone who sees benefits in either or both of these words finding their way into our common language, please join with me in using them and inspiring others!

Wishing you all a very healthy, happy, peaceful, prosperous, painterly, childful and selfful New Year!!! Donna ;-}

Dot Hoffman
12-31-2007, 08:37 AM
I just had to add one of the mis-use of words that makes me cringe and that is using "myself" instead of I or me, as in "My sister and myself went...." or "The package was sent to my husband and myself." Or even worse, "myself and my girlfriend were ....." Arghhhhhh............my 9th grade English teacher must be turning over in her grave.:lol:

Kathryn Wilson
12-31-2007, 08:39 AM
I can't get past the word passed ... which to use when?

Deborah Secor
12-31-2007, 09:55 AM
Or lose and loose! Lots of folks have trouble with that one.


12-31-2007, 10:41 AM
And the old beloved friends "who" and "whom"!!! To who it may concern... (feels like fingernails on blackboard).

I have an issue with the (Am English) "you", when it is general, meaning anyone, I always confuse that with you-personally (that is, me) , or you-many (I and my group). And when I use Br English old style "one", I'm suddenly accused of being high-brow... (took me a while to figure out what my eyebrows had to do with it -- they sit quite low -- until I got it that they meant "forhead", but it still didn't make sense. :-) Learned it later, though.)

Well, one tries.

12-31-2007, 10:56 AM
:wave: Deborah, great material!
As a retired elementary teacher, "Been there, thaught that, They forgot!" :lol:

I love words, too! Part of our problems with mixing up spellings and meanings comes from our lazy, old everyday ways of talking!
"Proper speaking" has gone out of fashion and was it ever in fashion? :lol:
We murder the poor old vowels everyday in everyway!:eek:

Having been born in Pennsylvania, raised in Ohio, I moved to Wisconsin
as a new teacher: the kids all thought I talked way too showly. It took awhile for us to understand each other well.
Then I moved to the mountains of Virginia! Ever try teaching phonics to southern kids? Again, it took me awhile to understand them and the kids to understand me and for me to figure out how to teach long and short vowel!:eek:
After 9 years of that, we moved to the San Jose area of California!
What a mix of ethnic groups, cultures, education levels, primary languages!
:eek: :eek: :eek: :lol:
Finally, back to Wisconsin I came! Because I could speak and undertand Spanish, I got any new language learners we had!;)
Finally, I just started approaching it from "Ok, kids, these are a couple of 'stick-it-in-you-head' words!" Guess what: no glue in kid's heads! LOL!
They all grew up to be artists on WC!:lol:

My Compliments to Deborah! I love words, too!:heart: :heart: :heart:
Thanks for jogging our memories!

12-31-2007, 09:20 PM
On TV the home designers and fashion designers frequently speak of using a "complementary" color, to complete the look, but I think they are misusing the term, meaning perhaps "complimentary" color, if there is such an expression, because the color they're using is not an opposite, but something that "goes with" the main color. Has anyone esle been bothered by this? Do they know what they're saying?!

Deborah Secor
12-31-2007, 11:34 PM
Good point, Lorraine, and I'm sure you're right. A color that compliments a color scheme wouldn't necessarily be opposite on the color wheel--in fact, that would rarely be so! I think the phrase has become so familiar to our ears that most people (who are not artists) use it just this way. It can be very confusing to people!


12-31-2007, 11:35 PM
I can't get past the word passed ... which to use when?

Kat you might think if it this way:

pasT - Time - as in days gone by. A long Time ago.... There is nothing we can do about past history. It is in the past. In the sentence you've used, "past" refers to "getting beyond". Beyond is another form of "time" so to speak.

passed - will just have to be anything that doesn't have to do with time. I passed that class with an A. or - The fast moving car passed me by. Neither of these two sentences has anything to do with time.

I often have to use devises such as this to remember the proper use of words. It works for me, but not for everyone.


01-01-2008, 10:12 AM
Charlie, the use of "one" to mean a generic "you" is coming back into use here in the states. Not widespread yet, but I've noticed it more and more. Also the use of "they" as a gender non-specific singular pronoun is now making its way into standard usage (good!).

All these things are simply proof that English is an evolving language, as it always has been. What I find delightfully interesting is that some of the things that are commonly thought of as "original" usage are not, but are late constructions. "Like" is an example of this-- its use predates "as", and even the use of it as a prefix goes back a long time. Like, modern English started out as a creole of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French. And got more fun from there.

BTW, that's why we have compliment and complement- one came from Latin via French-->English; the other from Latin via Spanish-->Italian-->French-->English, with some meaning shifts along the way. Both have the original sense of completion. And who doesn't have a feeling of completion from a compliment? As a complement appears to complete its complement...

And yet, in English they are different words, with different meanings.

You know, it is not hard to learn to speak English, if you overlook the irregular verb thing-- the meaning comes through just fine just from the position of the words in relation to each other. But, man, learning to read English, with its motley vocabulary from so many sources?? No wonder spelling is such a hassle. My admiration to all our non-native English speakers here for struggling through not only Americanisms but Oz and British English. Me, I'm trying to learn the latter two, and am still feeling my way in the first.

Dayle Ann

01-01-2008, 11:34 AM
Another one that I learned along the way is "lie" and "lay". Most people say they are going to "lay down" for a nap but it is always "lie". My husband's father was an English professor at NYU and he would always correct me and say "chickens lay eggs, humans lie down."

01-01-2008, 01:31 PM
Another one that I learned along the way is "lie" and "lay". Most people say they are going to "lay down" for a nap but it is always "lie". My husband's father was an English professor at NYU and he would always correct me and say "chickens lay eggs, humans lie down."That one always stumps me, especially in the past tense (or do I mean passed tents).:eek:

Deborah Secor
01-01-2008, 01:31 PM
Hmmm, Shari, sounds like my mom. She says "lay your body down and go lie down."

I love word constructions...as a kid you could find me 'reading' the dictionary. I liked to flip it open and see what words meant, where they came from, and how to use them. I think back and see a stuffy kid who was hard to take--with a great vocabulary. :rolleyes: I hope I'm growing out of that, but maybe the fact that I posted this thread proves otherwise.

I still enjoy my subscription to Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus (http://www.visualthesaurus.com/;jsessionid=05E81EB7CD4505B05E814CC7FBC67039), which satisfies my verbal AND visual desires simultaneously, being entertaining in so many ways, and freely admit to spending time in their Language Lounge, too. (The entry called Menu-Driven I forwarded on to my son, who works in a very upscale restaurant as a cook.)

I often find that the specific language devoted to art is misunderstood, but that seems to be true to all industry-specialized language. The more specific the language the greater the potential to misunderstand, while at the same time the more efficient it is in expressing a smaller concept in a larger context... An example: value (in art) is a small concept that when understood speaks of the larger context in which it is so important! Right?


01-01-2008, 02:27 PM
This is great, I love reading these posts, My spelling is horrible as you can tell from time to time, If I am not sure of a spelling I have to go to the Dictionary. I can only think of tomato/tamoto LOL, or where new words are being added like Phat which kids use to say it's cool, not meaning cold, LOL.I guess if we understand what each other is trying to say that is what counts. The american language has so many differant meanings, spellings, & pronunciations for the same words it can be very confusing even for americans

01-01-2008, 03:54 PM
:wave: Happy New Year Everyone!
Oh, Deborah, I'm with you on "reading" the dictionary! My parents had a lovely old two volume set of Websters Complete! They were blue clothbound.
I would spread out on the livingroom rug and read for hours! My brother loved them too! Eventually, he got them and I know he treasured them.
I have fond memories of those books!

One year, when I was teaching, (sixth grade at the time). I got a batch of
children whose teacher the year before had used as her favorite punishment to have them copy a page from the dictionary! That is ABUSE! :eek:
Guess what the first English unit was I had to teach those sixth graders?
Yes, dictionary skills! We started with moans, groans, sour faces. I knew I had to do something to promote healing from their terrible injury the year before. We spent lots of time just looking, seeing, finding neat words, uses,
derivations etc. I was a very young teacher then and I remember working so hard on that unit! We ended up continuing it all year as we took up other topics. My dictionaries are among my most prized books, and they include some very specialized ones, and of course several languages!
Hmmmmmm Words and Pastels.....I love the many variations of each, the variations in meanings and values and tones, and how a word rolls off the tongue and how pastel crumbles into the tooth of the paper! :lol: :clap: :heart:

01-01-2008, 04:08 PM
Another one that I learned along the way is "lie" and "lay". Most people say they are going to "lay down" for a nap but it is always "lie". My husband's father was an English professor at NYU and he would always correct me and say "chickens lay eggs, humans lie down."

Oh Shari this must be a generational thing because my mother will tell you the very same thing as your father-in-law did! :) Once having learned this, it is hard not to remember the difference.


01-01-2008, 04:15 PM
:heart: Oh, Deborah!
I just tried out the Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus!
Wow! What great fun! I fell in love!:heart:
I just subcribed!
Thanks so much!:clap: :clap: :clap:

01-01-2008, 07:13 PM
Gotta 'fess up, I am *still* a dictionary reader, never grew out of it. Encyclopedias are endlessly fascinating too, it usually takes me 30 - 45 minutes to even *get to* the word I'm looking up -- unless I forget it, lost in the wonders in the book.

How utterly *stupid* of that teacher to punish kids by having them copy a page! Punishing them for her own shortcomings... I'm glad you helped them to find pleasure in learning.

At my Hubby's former job, there was one programming expert from England who designed a program for locating similarities in words, and sounds of words (Patent and Copyright institution). This guy James designed a word based on English sounds, how they are spelled -- ghoti. Pronunciation is:
gh - as in enough - f
o - as in women - i
ti - as in nation - sh

He got paid handsomely for this ability, and by several countries.

English is rather difficult to spell, and read, when you learn it.

Ghoti? Yes, fish, of course! :-D The kind that lives in water.

Shirl Parker
01-01-2008, 07:44 PM
I have also always been a dictionary reader. Plus I have the word a day from Dictionary.com. When I was studying languages, Spanish (fluent) and then French (more fluent than not, unless you're Canadian), I always used the dictionary of that language, not the one that gives you the english translation. If I couldn't understand all the words in the definition, that gave me other words to look up and learn their context.

However, as a result of having a wide vocabulary in English, it makes it harder with other languages, where there doesn't seem to be as many synonyms for words, or words that give a more precise meaning. I could be wrong about that though.


01-02-2008, 10:24 AM
What a fun thread. Of course now I live in terror of posting an incorrect usage here, :lol:. I see that a lot at work. We have internal company forums similar to these boards, mostly for technical subjects. However some are dedicated to grammar and the English language. It's almost a "given" there that anyone posting about some linguistic pet peeve will invariably commit some linguistic faux pas of their own in their rant.

Some of my own hot buttons have been pushed here too, like less/fewer. I suppose I'd be less annoyed if I saw fewer instances of that abuse. :)

Its/it's is another classic. I make it myself but not through lack of knowledge, purely through carelessness in speed typing. In fact I often type far more egregious things than that when the flow to my fingers bypasses certain portions of my brain. Luckily I catch many in proof-reading, but not all! And spell check rarely helps as I mostly spell the words correctly - they just tend to be way out in left field as opposed to the words they ought to be.

Deborah Secor
01-02-2008, 01:41 PM
***NB: Typos committed in a dialog box at WC do not count! No one has the time to fix every one of those or we'd never be able to get off the computer and paint again! Agreed??? If that mattered we'd have a spell check function....

I offered my original thought only to remind my friends of the correct usage, in case someone didn't know or perhaps simply CANNOT remember! :lol:


David Patterson
01-02-2008, 01:48 PM
Way to go Deborah...I had to go out and buy a new dictionary!!:mad: :lol:

Deborah Secor
01-02-2008, 02:22 PM
David--there are some great online dictionaries available...no going out needed, let alone buying anything! However, maybe you want to develop the habit that so many have mentioned here, of reading the dictionary, in which case I recommend an UNABRIDGED one, cloth bound, too heavy to carry without using both hands, with that lovely scent of paper and ink. Curl up with a good cup of tea and start digging in. Ahhhh...nothing like a couple of uninterrupted hours of learning about words! :heart: The computer will never give you the same visceral satisfaction, I must say.


01-02-2008, 06:37 PM
Deborah, we, WC, have/has a spell check (it scrutinizes the spells we use for conjuring paintings :lol: ) , it is in the "go advanced" version of a reply, top right corner, just above the smilies selection. Well, on my computer, one has to download it first, but it is there.

Shirl Parker
01-02-2008, 08:12 PM
My new Mac Book is wonderful at spell check.


Deborah Secor
01-02-2008, 11:44 PM
Charlie, I'd have to fight through my pop-up blockers to download it, so I haven't done it... I'd forgotten it was even there, though... :o