Grammar Hammer: Ice Cream Compliments and Complements

It’s ice cream weather! Whether you’re a cone or a cup person, this heat wave means that either way you’ll need to try extra hard to eat fast before the ice cream melts (this shouldn’t be a problem anyway). Otherwise you’ll end up with ice cream and sprinkles dripping all over your hands!

Let’s take advantage of this scorching heat to lick the problem of when to use compliment vs. complement. If you drip some ice cream on your shirt or lap, does it compliment or complement your appearance? Here’s the scoop:

According to Merriam Webster, a compliment (with an “i”) is an expression of respect, affection or admiration.

  • That ice cream on your shirt looks stylish! (Don’t I give the best compliments?) [noun]
  • Right after he complimented her on her new dress, she dropped ice cream all over it. [verb]
  • The ice cream at the hotel is complimentary, but all they have is Rocky Road! [adjective]

On the other hand, a complement (with an “e”) is something that fills up, completes or makes perfect.

  • The ice cream complements the root beer very nicely. [makes perfect]
  • The ice-cream store has a full complement of flavors. [completes]
  • The waffles came with a complementary scoop of vanilla. [makes perfect]

Pro Tip: If you’re still not sure about when to use compliment vs. complement, it helps to remember that compliments are generally exchanged between people. If a sentence is referencing inanimate objects, then likely go with complement. Your ice cream can’t compliment your shirt!

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Joelk75.

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