com·​pla·​cent kəm-ˈplā-sᵊnt How to pronounce complacent (audio)
: marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies : marked by complacency : self-satisfied
a complacent smile
: complaisant sense 1
complacent flattery
complacently adverb

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Complaisant or Complacent?

The homophones complaisant and complacent are often confused - and no wonder. Not only do they look and sound alike, but they also both derive ultimately from Latin complacēre, meaning "to please greatly." Complacent usually means "self-satisfied" or "unconcerned," but it also shares with complaisant the sense of "marked by an inclination to please or oblige." This sense of complacent is an old one, but that hasn't kept language critics from labeling it as an error - and on the whole, modern writers do prefer complaisant for this meaning. Conversely, complaisant is sometimes mistakenly used in contexts such as "complaisant about injustices," where complacent, with its sense of "marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies," should go. One aid is to remember that with the preposition "about," you probably want complacent.

Examples of complacent in a Sentence

… I gazed at my mother's poised, beautiful profile as her face turned from side to side, calm or complacent, accepting what the route offered. Donald Hall, Atlantic, October 1996
Mr. Davis organized his second great quintet in the mid-60's, but by then jazz had taken a new turn and many felt he had become passé, a complacent peacock. Gary Giddins, New York Times Book Review, 15 Oct. 1989
… he hopes to break through the reader's complacent indifference, make him aware of his predicament, and force him to take sides. Monroe K. Spears, American Ambitions, 1987
Lord Lathkill … was so completely unostentatious, so very willing to pay all the attention to me, and yet so subtly complacent, so unquestionably sure of his position. D. H. Lawrence, The Complete Short Stories Volume III, (1922) 1981
The strong economy has made people complacent. We have grown too complacent over the years. We can't afford to be complacent about illiteracy. See More
Recent Examples on the Web In its letter, UMG said the app isn’t just complacent in the AI content boom, but encourages it. Vulture, 31 Jan. 2024 Though headwinds such as Apple Inc. downgrades and heavy corporate issuance weighed on markets, complacent investor positioning particularly around central-bank policy was the key accelerant. Lu Wang, Fortune, 5 Jan. 2024 Become a Subscriber But The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived, a briskly told biography of Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM’s mid-20th-century CEO, makes clear that the history of the company offers much more than an object lesson about complacent Goliaths. Deborah Cohen, The Atlantic, 13 Dec. 2023 Roth, who left Berlin the same morning Adolf Hitler came to power and never returned to Germany, was desperate to make his complacent friend recognize the perils before them. Pankaj Mishra, The New York Review of Books, 12 Oct. 2023 As cross-strait exchanges grew, Taipei became complacent, believing that so long as the two sides were talking Beijing would not attack, so investing in defense was unnecessary and wasteful. David Sacks, Foreign Affairs, 10 Jan. 2024 There were almost no Israeli troops deployed in the area in the first place to defend the many points of attack, in part due to the holiday and lack of advanced warning, and in part due to the complacent confidence in the wall and its high-tech support system. Avner Cohen, The Conversation, 14 Oct. 2023 In light of these alarming headlines, Peterson cautioned the public against growing complacent, but offered perspective. Tom Hanson, CBS News, 18 Sep. 2023 But Muñoz isn’t the type to be complacent, and is always looking to one-upping his previous releases. Isabela Raygoza, Billboard, 1 Dec. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'complacent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin complacent-, complacens, present participle of complacēre to please greatly, from com- + placēre to please — more at please

First Known Use

1760, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of complacent was in 1760

Dictionary Entries Near complacent

Cite this Entry

“Complacent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


com·​pla·​cent kəm-ˈplās-ᵊnt How to pronounce complacent (audio)
: marked by complacency : self-satisfied
a complacent smile
: feeling or showing complaisance
complacently adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on complacent

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