We’ll continue our tour through Homophone Hell today with complement and compliment. Technically, there’s a slight difference in the correct pronunciation of each word, but in practice they sound virtually identical.
“Complement” has to do with completing, making whole, or improving something. Here are two examples of it as a noun: “Those pumps are a perfect complement to her suit.” “The baby was born with less than the usual complement of toes.” And here it is as a verb: “This dusting of glitter complements the winter scene on the card better than a smattering of sequins would.”
“Compliment” is also a noun and a verb, and it concerns saying nice things or the things being said. Here, it’s a noun: “I know you said my eyes reminded you of a Brown Swiss cow’s, but I didn’t take that as a compliment.” (Note: She should have. Cows have lovely eyes.) And in this sentence, it’s a verb: “The next time he compliments her eyes, he’ll know better than to use a farm animal in his wording.”
It will probably help to remember that “complete” and “complement” both contain e’s but no i’s, and that “compliment” and “nice” each contain an i and an e.
A compliment about the gift you received is a good complement to any thank-you note you write.