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 plantains were juicy and well seasoned, providing an ideally sweet complement to the greens. Natalie Wade, chicagotribune.com, "What to eat at Taste of Chicago: We tried every booth to recommend our favorites," 9 July 2019 Second, the United States wanted the E.U. established as a political and economic complement to the NATO military alliance. Ashley Smith, Harper's magazine, "Left of Europe," 16 Sep. 2019 In a perfect world, Vincent would be an ideal complement to junior Jayden McFadden, who had emerged in his own right with 12 receptions for more than 200 receiving yards in the season’s first game-and-a-half. Steve Reaven, chicagotribune.com, "Jordan Vincent helping Stevenson stay positive after loss to Neuqua Valley," 7 Sep. 2019 The shop specializing in customizable ice cream sandwiches opened a brick and mortar storefront in June as a complement to its highly popular food truck. al, "Bendy’s Cookies & Cream has reopened, plus more Birmingham weekend eats," 16 Aug. 2019 It's often eaten as a complement to something else, never by itself, and is most often used in sandwiches. Grace Connatser, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin cheesemakers and Middle Eastern buyers meet and make deals at cheese trade show," 28 June 2019 Spicy serrano rajas prove to be a formidable second string, and an excellent complement to sizzled beef. Dominic Armato, azcentral, "Pueblan-style Mexican food at this family-owned restaurant made a dining critic do a happy dance," 5 June 2019 Covert influence campaigns have become a favored tool of leaders in countries like China and Russia, where manipulation of social media complements strongarm tactics on the streets. Declan Walsh, New York Times, "‘We’re at War’: A Covert Social Media Campaign Boosts Military Rulers," 6 Sep. 2019 Saarinen dining chairs the family already owned complement the banquette Pinney designed to fill an empty corner in the kitchen. Marni Elyse Katz, BostonGlobe.com, "From cookie-cutter spec house to a family-friendly refuge," 5 Sep. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The Vietnamese fish sauce wings were crispy and full of flavor, and a light beer complemented the wings. Taylor Blatchford, Dallas News, "Discovering the merits of solo travel through a one-woman exploration of Portland," 27 Aug. 2019 The city allotted an additional $300,000, funded by the Percent for Art program, to commission an artist to create a permanent artwork that complements the new fire station, the release said. BostonGlobe.com, "The building will be broken into three zones - hot, warm and cold - “to keep carcinogens from circulating through the house,” the release said.," 17 Sep. 2019 With makeup that complemented the hair, led by makeup artist Rena Takeda and Shiseido, the show was a true display of Maki Oh’s unique brand of fashion and beauty. Shalwah Evans, Essence, "The Dominatrix Ponytails At Maki Oh Are Red Carpet Awards Season Ready," 10 Sep. 2019 Much of that growth will come through acquisitions of other software firms that complement CollabNet’s offerings. Rey Mashayekhi, Fortune, "TPG Makes Big Software Play With Acquisition, Planned $500M Investment in CollabNet," 4 Sep. 2019 Tomatoes truly have it all: mild sweetness, pronounced acidity and, when sliced, a saucy texture that complements the toast by sinking into the tender parts and gently softening the very crunchy bits. Alison Roman, New York Times, "We Should Be Talking About Dinner Toast," 27 Aug. 2019 The secret is to add layers of flavor: caramelized bananas, nuts, extracts and liqueurs that complement the rich, dense finished blondie. Dallas News, "5 easy recipes for blondies that include lots of browned butter, nuts and liqueurs," 27 Aug. 2019 People can monitor their food through an app, ensure it’s prepared perfectly, and, in some cases, subscribe to a food delivery plan that complements the oven. Ashley Carman, The Verge, "Smart ovens have been turning on overnight and preheating to 400 degrees," 14 Aug. 2019 Over the weeks that follow, each library presents public programs that complement the themes, characters or settings featured in the book. Staff, chicagotribune.com, "Trio of northwest suburban library districts pick up Illinois Library Association award for ‘one book’ efforts," 29 July 2019

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

15 Oct 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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