Occasionally, I see a “compliment/complement” typo in a news release that crosses my desk. It doesn’t happen that often, so when I do see it, I always pause for a moment to review. I think it’s because this is a homophone, where the words sound the same regardless of spelling. It’s only one little letter, right? That one little letter changes its meaning, so it’s important to learn which is which.
“Bill makes the best pies! His Nutella pie is my favorite.” I’ve just given Bill a compliment – a kind or flattering remark.
Bourbon whipped cream is the perfect complement to Bill’s Nutella pie. Complement, with an “e,” refers to bringing something to perfection or a number or quantity of something required to make a group complete. In this example, Nutella pie and bourbon whipped cream is a set (a perfectly matched one, in my opinion). To put it another way, “We needed a full complement of friends to finish Bill’s fantastic Nutella pie.” A complement to your compliment.
Easiest way I’ve found to remember compliment vs. complement – it’s all about me. I like to give compliments. Adding emphasis to the “i” in compliment helps me remember that I’m saying something nice.
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.
Photo credit: Bill Hart-Davidson. Recipe for nutella pie found here.