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

The natural setting is a perfect complement to enjoying a glass of superior wine. Mark Rogers, USA TODAY, "Already been to Napa Valley? Next head south to Mexico's wine country, Valle de Guadalupe," 6 June 2019 Conductor Steven Osgood drew a warm sound from the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, which sounded bigger than its complement of 16 players would suggest, and skillfully managed the opera’s complicated vocal choreography. Heidi Waleson, WSJ, "‘The Flood’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Reviews: Premieres in Pursuit of Reinvention," 11 Feb. 2019 In those two years, yoga has become an irreplaceable complement to my training. Laura Schwecherl, SELF, "Why All Runners Should Consider Adding Yoga to Their Routines," 15 Jan. 2019 The second largest complement of aircraft are 19 MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawk helicopters, which conduct everything from anti-submarine warfare to the transport of Navy SEALs. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "First of Its Class, America's Newest Aircraft Carrier Is Underway at Sea," 10 Apr. 2017 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

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Amidst all this, a beauty look that could not complement her nine costume changes—including one Marie Antoinette-worthy ball gown—was a tall order. Lauren Valenti, Vogue, "The Story Behind FKA Twigs’ Mesmerizing Magdalene Tour Makeup," 21 May 2019 Lipa's makeup was also fierce, starting with her dark, slicked back hair that complemented her radiant complexion. Nicole Saunders, Harper's BAZAAR, "Dua Lipa Looks Ravishing in a Red Valentino Gown at the 2019 amfAR Gala," 24 May 2019 The key is to use the finish in a way that will complement the overall look of the room and not overwhelm the space. Monique Valeris, ELLE Decor, "Everything You Need to Know About High-Gloss Paint," 22 May 2019 Given the setting, Abbott’s been leaning toward clothes that complement this throwback. Rachel Hahn, Vogue, "On Tour, Jorja Smith Is a Modern Renaissance Girl," 30 Apr. 2019 Renowned as Jackie Kennedy's former vacation spot, this Cape Cod cottage has the sort of understated charm that complements—rather than competes with—its garden and beachfront views. Candace Braun Davison, House Beautiful, "You Can Now Get Designers' Most Iconic Looks in Your Own Home," 14 Mar. 2019 Accessorize with pillows in a color that complements your cabinetry. Jessica Dailey, Good Housekeeping, "Nooks," 11 Feb. 2019 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

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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Statistics for complement

Last Updated

11 Jun 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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