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  • Writer's pictureHannah Rooke

Compliment or is it complement?

Today (24 January) is National Compliment Day. The compliment or complement debate still catches me out, so here’s my little act of kindness to help you on your way. You can do it!

Compliment = An act or remark showing your appreciation, affection, or admiration.

French, Italian and Spanish adaptation of Latin to mean ‘courteous’.

Used more commonly than its counterpart:

Complement = evolved from Latin ‘complete’. Makes it complete, whole or enhances.

Where the confusion lies…

Complimentary = Showing appreciation, affection or admiration. Includes things given for free as a courtesy or favour to show appreciation…

Complimentary tickets (free tickets as a sign of our appreciation).

Complimentary biscuit with every cup of coffee (as a courtesy).

Complementary = completing or enhancing.

Bathroom with complementary jacuzzi.

Those earrings complement the outfit.

The wine complements the meal.

The icing complements the cake.

The team has a full complement of players.

So although free biscuits might enhance your experience of a coffee, they’re gifted to flatter as a favour or simply for publicity.

Top tips:

If you like it – you compliment it.

If you give with good wishes – it’s with compliments.

If it’s gifted (so you like them) – it’s complimentary.


It if completes or enhances it – it complements or is complementary.

And just to prove how incredibly versatile and confusing it all is:

Have some complimentary, complementary coffee and biscuits, compliments of the staff to complement your stay.

And if in doubt, Sarah Townsend explains it much better than me and has a fabulous book full of these tricky 'confusable' blighters.

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