Wrong Word Wednesday #5

Every week I will demonstrate an example of poor English where a different word is used from the one intended. Sometimes this creates a grammatically incorrect sentence. Unfortunately, the mistake is usually so pervasive that we all do it and such errors are usually made by those who should know better – journalists working for national or global media outlets such as newspapers and television.

Complement vs. Compliment

A lot of people do not know the difference between the two words and it is usually the first that is sacrificed. When the second is used, it changes the context of what is being said, sometimes with amusing effect. Take the following sentence:

“People ask how we’ve managed to stay married for twenty years when we’re such different personalities. In truth, we complement each other.”

The above is the correct usage of the word. The woman is saying that despite her and her husband being so different, their personalities taken as a unit simply works, making their marriage complete. Ths below sentence on the other hand:

“People ask how we’ve managed to stay married for twenty years when we’re such different personalities. In truth, we compliment each other.”

Makes it sound as though the only reason their marriage works is because of the verbal praise they give one another.

Complement is how well things work together and compliment is an expression of praise. How can we remember the difference like the “e for envelope” example of stationery/stationary?

I am paying you a compliment

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