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

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 Those molecules also like to pair up with their respective complements: A with T, and C with G. Any sequence of bases will naturally self-assemble with a complementary sequence—ATTAGCA, for instance, will pair with TAATCGT. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Caltech scientists use DNA tiles to play tic-tac-toe at the nanoscale," 29 Dec. 2018 His typical spread included barbecue, tacos, tamales, pork rinds with hot sauce, with a healthy complement of blue bell ice cream and Klondike bars. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "Read the Full Transcript of George P. Bush's Eulogy for His Grandfather, George H.W. Bush," 6 Dec. 2018 More on Tony and Sophia: Vivacious, outgoing and in charge, Sophia, 89, was a great complement to Tony's wry, man-of-few-words personality. Georgea Kovanis, Detroit Free Press, "After 71 years together, death has separated a Macomb Township couple," 4 June 2018 Still, Brady has a strong complement of options, including running backs Sony Michel and James White to receivers Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. WSJ, "How the Grinch Stole the Patriots’ December Invincibility," 17 Dec. 2018 Even some games designed for digital directional input require more than the NES controller's four action buttons—games like Dead Cells and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are missing crucial inputs without a full complement of Joy-Con buttons. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Hands-on: Switch’s NES controllers offer unmatched old-school authenticity," 13 Dec. 2018 The combination of athleisure and luxury was the perfect complement to her glamazon-next-door persona. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "How to Pull Off “Evening Bike Shorts” With Chrissy Teigen," 17 Jan. 2019 The color is the perfect complement to her client's skin tone. Kelsi Zimmerman, Allure, "21 Bronde Hair Ideas That Look Amazing on Everyone," 7 Oct. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Picking mounts that go with the aesthetic of your home is vital to making sure that your living wall complements your home, rather than look completely out of place. Nikhita Mahtani, House Beautiful, "Your Ultimate Guide to Creating a Living Wall," 13 Mar. 2019 The mint-green ensemble featured white floral embroidery, complementing the rose detail on her clutch. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Meghan Markle's Mom Doria Ragland Sounds Like the Coolest Person Ever," 6 Mar. 2019 Deep rosey hues look stunning on dark skin tones and pastel pinks complement fair complexions the best. Maya Allen, Marie Claire, "9 Pretty Spring 2019 Makeup Trends You're Going to See Everywhere," 5 Mar. 2019 Rather than EVs and hybrids complementing the main business of selling combustion road cars, EVs are to become the main business. Matthew Jancer, Popular Mechanics, "This Is the Year Electric Car Racing Gets Real," 11 Dec. 2018 Sometimes the girls code computer graphics that complement the dance and are projected onto the stage; other times, the students wear costumes with programmable lights that flash or change color depending on the wearer's movements. Shay Maunz, Glamour, "STEM From Dance Is Using Dance to Turn Teen Girls Into Coders," 7 Dec. 2018 Sophie wore a red suit embellished with beads and embroidery with a yellow dupatta, and Joe wore a light blue kurta with pink bottoms, perfectly complementing his brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law. Mekita Rivas, Teen Vogue, "Everything Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas Wore During Their Wedding Celebrations," 29 Nov. 2018 Not much has changed with either: the trackpad is still responsive and great for Windows-specific gestures, while the fingerprint reader complements the IR camera to give users two Windows Hello biometric authentication options. Valentina Palladino, Ars Technica, "HP Elitebook x360 1030 review: Small tweaks made to a stylish work 2-in-1," 16 Nov. 2018 All of the scientists who spoke with The WashingtonPost agreed that biological techniques can complement boots-on-the-ground rhinoceros protection. Ben Guarino, Washington Post, "‘Beautiful’ embryos created from near-extinct rhinoceros sperm," 4 July 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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Last Updated

19 Mar 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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