Complement vs. Compliment

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Q: I'm always getting the words "complement" and "compliment" confused. Can you set me straight once and for all?—Adam P.

A: These two words used to give me a hard time, too, but with a little trick that I learned I was able to set it straight once and for all—and, hopefully, you will too.

First off, let's define both terms. A "complement" is a counterpart to something. The curtains complement the window treatments. My black tie complemented my red shirt.

A "compliment" is what you give someone as an expression of affection, admiration or gratitude. Zac complimented Grace's brown eyes. I take it as a compliment when my wife doesn't complain about what I'm wearing.

Now that we've defined the differences, here's a simple way to remember when to use each: If you are being nice (which has an "i" in it), you are paying a compliment (which also has an "i" in it). If not, you complement (which doesn't have an "i").

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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