complement

noun
com·​ple·​ment | \ˈkäm-plə-mənt \

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 \
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

That award—still to be named—will serve as a complement to the Cecil B. DeMille award which is typically given out to lifetime achievement in film. Jessica Radloff, Glamour, "Here's the Full List of Nominees for the 2019 Golden Globe Awards," 6 Dec. 2018 And those images find their complement in Mark Samsonovich’s illustrations and animations, which reflect the intense drama of Jonah’s inner life. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, "‘We the Animals’ Review: Sibling Intimacy," 16 Aug. 2018 The car comes with a full complement of Ferrari's advanced driver aids, called Side Slip Control 3.0. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, "The GTC4Lusso T is a Ferrari you really could drive every day," 23 July 2018 The entire royal family was here, along with a complement of English aristocrats and important personages. Sarah Lyall, New York Times, "‘Stand by Me’: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Are Married," 20 May 2018 According to the organization’s website, the new ranking system is intended to serve as a complement the League of American Bicyclists’ annual ranking system of Bicycle Friendly Communities. Julissa Treviño, Smithsonian, "New System Ranks America’s “Bicycle-Friendly” Cities," 9 May 2018 Their underwear and activewear are said to be leak-fighting and blood-friendly, meant to be worn instead of or as a complement to traditional period products. Hannah Dylan Pasternak, SELF, "I Tried Free Bleeding in Period-Proof Running Shorts," 30 Oct. 2018 The embellished patch-patterned bag was a complement for her graphic dress and elevated the bedroom staple into daytime territory, while the retro kicks were a cool foil. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Rita Ora’s Post-VMAs Look Is a Slip Dress and Sneakers," 22 Aug. 2018 Our neighbors to the south have several possibilities, including Angelic Organics Learning Center, in Caledonia, Ill., part of a 200-acre organic, community supported agriculture farm with a complement of goats, chickens, pigs and some cattle. Anne Schamberg, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Farming out the kids: Gathering eggs, milking cows, cooking teach about country life," 3 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Makeup artist Carly Giglio tells SELF to choose a foundation that complements your skin’s undertone—not the undertone of your freckles, which actually tend to be cool-toned. Talia Abbas, SELF, "How to Apply Makeup When You Have Freckles, According to Makeup Artists," 3 Dec. 2018 Below, Montgomery's ideas for what to give each sign, and a few related objects that will complement her home. Michaela Bechler, Vogue, "Home Gift Ideas for Every Star Sign," 27 Nov. 2018 The architects kept the house intentionally minimal with a stark light interior that complements the blunt facade. Liz Stinson, Curbed, "Blocky concrete home hides an airy second level," 8 Nov. 2018 Even as of late, Delevingne has opted for edgier looks on red carpets, and beauty moments that complement but don't contrast with her pixie cut. Carrie Goldberg, Harper's BAZAAR, "Cara Delevingne Broke The Royal Wedding Dress Code in the Chicest Way Possible," 12 Oct. 2018 The ingredients are totally vegan, and the wide range of colors complements any skin tone. Maria Cassano, Allure, "Beauty Bakerie Is Now Sold at Ulta Stores," 31 Oct. 2018 Outside, 1,400 square feet of Ipe decks complement terraced patios and a top-notch pool. Megan Barber, Curbed, "Hillside modern marvel with pool and views asks $4.9M," 24 Oct. 2018 Similar experiments with fruit flies complemented those results. Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, "How Quantum Mechanics Lets Us See, Smell and Touch," 24 Oct. 2018 Jack also gave Eugenie a thoughtful gift on their wedding day, a pair of diamond and emerald drop earrings, which perfectly complemented not only her red hair, but also her new tiara. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "The Sweet Reason Jack Brooksbank Wore His Glasses for Just a Second During the Royal Wedding," 12 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

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

Verb

see complement entry 1

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Last Updated

10 Dec 2018

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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 \

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 \
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 \

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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