complement

noun
com·​ple·​ment | \ ˈkäm-plə-mənt How to pronounce complement (audio) \

Definition of complement

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : something that fills up, completes, or makes better or perfect The scarf is a perfect complement to her outfit.
b(1) : the full quantity, number, or assortment needed or included … the usual complement of eyes and ears …— Francis Parkman … after several more minutes of waiting, the full complement of runners was sent off by the starter's pistol.— Craig Neff
(2) : the whole force or personnel of a ship
c : one of two mutually completing parts : counterpart She is a kind of complement to me, and we get on famously.— Flannery O'Connor
2 : an added word or expression by which a predication is made complete (such as president in "they elected him president" and beautiful in "he thought her beautiful")
3a : the angle or arc that when added to a given angle or arc equals a right angle in measure
b : the set of all elements that do not belong to a given set and are contained in a particular mathematical set containing the given set
c : a number that when added to a certain number of the same sign yields a number with the digit 1 as the significant digit farthest to the left and the digit 0 in every other digit place used especially in assembly language programming
4 : the musical interval required with a given interval to complete the octave
5 : the thermolabile group of proteins in normal blood serum and plasma that in combination with antibodies causes the destruction especially of particulate antigens (such as bacteria and foreign blood corpuscles)

complement

verb
com·​ple·​ment | \ ˈkäm-plə-ˌment How to pronounce complement (audio) \
complemented; complementing; complements

Definition of complement (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to complete or enhance by providing something additional : to be complementary to The illustrations complement the text.
2 obsolete : compliment

intransitive verb

obsolete : to exchange formal courtesies

Illustration of complement

Illustration of complement

Noun

complement 3a: ACB right angle, ACD complement of DCB (and vice versa), AD complement of DB (and vice versa)

In the meaning defined above

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Synonyms for complement

Synonyms: Noun

correlate, supplement

Synonyms: Verb

complete, round (off or out)

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Is it complement or compliment?

Today there is no overlap between the meanings of complement and compliment, as either nouns or verbs, but their similar spellings and pronunciations make them prime candidates for confusion. Despite the difference in their meanings, both complement and compliment have roots in the Latin word complēre which means “to complete.” Complement remains true to that origin in its spelling and in its meanings that have to do with completing or completion. Keep that connection in mind and there should be no question as to whether complement or compliment is the correct word to use in a given context.

Examples of complement in a Sentence

Noun

With the loss of just one American and four Japanese carriers, including their complements of aircraft and many of their superbly trained fliers …  , Midway … put the Japanese navy at a disadvantage from which it never recovered. — David M. Kennedy, Atlantic, March 1999 Exact observation of the outer world was the complement to a literal reading of Scripture. — Garry Wills, Under God, 1990 The usual complement of Kremlin guards was about, one company of infantry with light arms. — Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising, 1986 His faults are accepted as the necessary complement to his merits. — W. Somerset Maugham, Moon and Sixpence, 1919 The scarf is a perfect complement to her outfit. a full complement of farm animals her usual complement of attendants a ship's complement of officers “President” in “they elected her president” and “to work” in “he wants to work” are different kinds of complements.

Verb

Carrots often work even better than sticks, so I propose a skinny subsidy to complement the fat tax. — Jonathan Rauch, Atlantic, December 2002 The love of Bottom's bottomless vision at least complements, if it does not transcend, the rational love of Theseus. — Frank Kermode, Shakespeare's Language, 2000 … his ice-blue Appalachian eyes glint through horn-rimmed glasses, which complement his salt-and-pepper beard. — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., New Yorker, 19 June 1995 … lively photographs, illustrations and cartoons designed to complement the meanings of the poems and give a leg-up to the imagination. — Carol Ann Duffy, Times Literary Supplement, 4-10 Dec. 1987 The shirt complements the suit nicely. a delicious dinner complemented by a splendid dessert The soup and salad complement each other well.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Marr is the perfect complement to Stanwick (Boys’ Latin) and Cole Williams (Loyola Blakefield), the Blue Jays’ other starting attackman. Mike Preston, baltimoresun.com, "Preston: Marr vs. Marr in the NCAA men's lacrosse championship game? Don't count it out," 18 May 2018 Bright, fresh apples and arugula are the perfect complement to these spiced, crispy squash fritters. Woman's Day Kitchen, Woman's Day, "Curried Squash Pancakes with Arugula and Apple Salad," 10 Feb. 2015 Still, having a full complement of players didn’t pay off for the Raptors, who surrendered 18 points on 13 turnovers. Ian Harrison, The Seattle Times, "Lamb hits winning 3, Hornets down Raptors 115-114," 24 Mar. 2019 The clothes themselves were witty complements to the proceedings: flirty, nautically inspired tweed suits and Capri pants that seemed designed for a stroll past the surf, perhaps drenched in saltwater, or jewels. Erik Maza, Town & Country, "Chanel Sets Sail for New York City," 15 Nov. 2018 Evans is a terrific complement to Higdon in many ways and has the ability to make moves in space. Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan football's 2018 projected depth chart: Who'll start at QB?," 6 May 2018 Christian McCaffrey could use a complement and Julius Peppers isn't the answer forever. Larry Holder, NOLA.com, "Saints leading the NFC South pack following measured free agency approach," 7 Apr. 2018 From lavenders to lime greens, the buildings are a soothing and photogenic complement to the historic city’s cobblestoned streets and picturesque seaside panoramas. Megan Barber, Curbed, "The 25 most colorful cities in the world," 19 Feb. 2019 Skillet Chicken Thighs With Peaches, Arugula, and Quinoa Sweet peaches are the perfect complement to savory chicken and nutty quinoa in this dish. Audrey Bruno, SELF, "How to Cook Perfectly Crispy Chicken Thighs Every Time," 25 Feb. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Baby soft skin and pulled back tresses complemented the look. Akili King, Vogue, "Ciara Goes Bare Faced, and More of the Best Beauty Instagrams of the Week," 28 Apr. 2019 These include these multi-modal devices, the interactive displays, that are designed to work with voice but also complement it with visual. Eric Johnson, Recode, "What’s next for virtual assistants like Alexa? Maybe buying stuff for you automatically.," 24 Dec. 2018 The Sweetest Thing: Handmade Desserts to Complete Your Meal A fine dining experience wouldn’t be complete without a selection of homemade desserts to perfectly complement the entire meal. Ruth's Chris Steak House, Bon Appetit, "How a New Orleans Staple Became a Worldwide Steak House Icon," 14 May 2018 Blueberries and mint complement the coconut flavor perfectly, or top the pudding with any combination of fruit or nuts for a delicious and easy breakfast or dessert. Nicole Sours Larson, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Gourmet food on a budget," 23 Apr. 2018 The Augusta National logo appears on the left pocket, and brass buttons complement the look. Usa Today Sports, USA TODAY, "The Masters' Green Jacket: Five things you need to know," 4 Apr. 2018 This is a great take on the fritter: Crunchy and salty with a touch of spice from the pepperoni within, and complemented perfectly by the accompanying marinara sauce. Charles Curtis, For The Win, "The 8 most mouth-watering dishes the Mets will offer at Citi Field," 22 Mar. 2018 During her first official appearance alongside Prince Harry, Prince William and a pregnant Kate Middleton at Wednesday’s inaugural Royal Foundation Forum, the former Suits star appeared to perfectly complement the royal trio. Megan Mccluskey, Time, "Meghan Markle Shines at First Royal Engagement With Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate Middleton," 28 Feb. 2018 He has also been complemented by veteran Mike Davis, who added 68 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss. Mike Vorel, The Seattle Times, "Don’t look now, but between Chris Carson and Mike Davis, the Seahawks might have a running game," 8 Oct. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'complement.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of complement

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Verb

1602, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for complement

Noun and Verb

Middle English, from Latin complementum, from complēre to fill up, complete, from com- + plēre to fill — more at full

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Learn More about complement

Statistics for complement

Last Updated

14 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for complement

The first known use of complement was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for complement

complement

noun

English Language Learners Definition of complement

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: something that completes something else or makes it better
: the usual number or quantity of something that is needed or used
grammar : a word or group of words added to a sentence to make it complete

complement

verb

English Language Learners Definition of complement (Entry 2 of 2)

: to complete something else or make it better

complement

noun
com·​ple·​ment | \ ˈkäm-plə-mənt How to pronounce complement (audio) \

Kids Definition of complement

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : something that makes whole or better The cool salad was the perfect complement to the spicy dish.
2 : the number or quantity of something that is needed or used the ship's complement of crew

complement

verb
com·​ple·​ment | \ ˈkäm-plə-ˌment How to pronounce complement (audio) \
complemented; complementing

Kids Definition of complement (Entry 2 of 2)

: to serve as something necessary to make whole or better Find a hat that complements your costume.

complement

noun
com·​ple·​ment | \ ˈkäm-plə-mənt How to pronounce complement (audio) \

Medical Definition of complement

1 : a group or set (as of chromosomes or DNA) that is typical of the complete organism or one of its parts — see chromosome complement
2 : a complementary color
3 : the thermolabile group of proteins in normal blood serum and plasma that in combination with antibodies causes the destruction especially of particulate antigens (as bacteria and foreign blood corpuscles)

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Comments on complement

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