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Compliment / Complement–“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  Mark Twain

Check this category every week for a new set of ceaselessly confused, misused or misspelled words to master. Break the cycle of language abuse! 

Many student writers I know use these words interchangeably and are shocked to learn that there is any difference whatsoever between them. Then they get mad that there is yet one more thing that they have to learn.

Thing is, if you don’t know the meanings of the words you’re using, you’ll have trouble communicating with those who do. So, you have two choices.

A) Only use words you know.

B) Learn some new ones.

I like B.

But what happens when you don’t know that you don’t know that word you’ve just used? That’s why I’m here.

So, here we go.

Compliment with an i is praise, usually given freely and honestly.

  • “That’s quite a maneuver you’ve got there, Henry Heimlich!”
  • “Love that toast, Nellie Melba!”
  • “Hey, Ernó Rubik!  Best cube ever!”
  • “Is that your Zamboni? Great job, Frank!”

Compliments are nice things. We like to get them. We should all learn to give them more often. With an i.

Complement with an e is a completer. Hence the e. The two words look alike for a reason.

  • The red shoes and white hat complement the blue dress. (The outfit is complete.)
  • The 30º angle and the 60º angle are complementary because they create a 90º angle. (The two smaller angles complete the larger one—and this is all the math that you are likely to get out of me.)
  • Sometimes a lovely little sorbet is the best complement to a big meal. (The sorbet completes the dinner.)
  •  I’m pretty quiet and you never shut up. You are my perfect complement! (You complete me.)

Time to practice.

Joanie was feeling low, so I decided to shower her with __________every day until she felt better. I told her that her shoes were a nice __________ to her outfit. I told her that her gloves were the perfect __________ to her coat. I told her that her favorite TV show was a great __________ to mine and that we should watch them both. I __________ her for days. And, though she is my best friend and I love her, I was running out of __________ that didn’t sound forced. And still, her mood was blue.

Days had gone by.

“Joanie,” I finally asked, “I’ve been trying to raise your spirits with __________ all week. It hasn’t worked. What more can I do”

“Oh, Beth,” she giggled. “It HAS worked—perfectly!”

“Huh?” I replied.

“I LOVE getting __________from you. You give the best __________of anyone I know. I was afraid if I let you know that I felt better, you’d stop.”

“Oh,” I said, miffed. “So you were lying to me. Now I feel bad. I thought we __________each other better than that.”

“We do!” Joanie laughed.

“Well,” I said as I walked away, “then you know that I’ll be expecting a ton of __________from you from now on.”

She caught up with me and linked her arm into mine.

“Done,” she said. “Starting now.”

“I’m listening.”

“You have great taste in friends!”

     (Look for answers on the Lose / Loose page.)