This is the only similar spelling mix-up in English that gets me every freakin' time. I can never remember which is which. One is a mathematical notion; the other is a nice thing to say.

Does anyone know of any clever mnemonics for complement / compliment to get this one straight?

  • 3
    Just remember that ‘complement’ is related to ‘complete’: the complement in a set is (if I understand the dictionary definition of the mathematical sense correctly) the part that completes the set when you’ve already got all the stuff in the subset(s) you’re talking about. Technically, ‘compliment’ is also related to ‘complete’ (and ‘comply’), but the semantic link is much less direct and tenable there. So just think, “Am I completing something here?”. Oct 5, 2013 at 19:27
  • Complement is not solely "a mathematical notion". See chambers.co.uk/search.php?query=complement&title=21st - the maths definition is only the 4th defn. You can, e.g., talk of colours or people complementing one another.
    – TrevorD
    Oct 5, 2013 at 23:13
  • "I gIve complIments" and "WE complEment Each other".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 6, 2013 at 7:06

3 Answers 3


I like to get complIments.​​

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    SNAILBOAT! I just got brought back to this question by an upvote so much later only to see it was you all along. I had wanted to say this is really an ingeniously simple solution, by the way. Jan 8, 2015 at 21:54

I just thought of this one:

A compl-i-ment pra-i-ses and a compl-e-ment compl-e-tes.


complEment is External and Exterior to your person

complIment has I as a subject and is an Internal feeling

or :

You are Excluded to modify a complEment (mathematical propriety)

You are Involved in paying a complIment

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