Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahm-plê-ment Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. That which completes the whole, that which supplies qualities needed but lacked by other parts. 2. (Mathematics) An angle that, when combined with another, results in a 90 degree angle. 3. A full crew of personnel. 4. (Grammar) The phrase following a verb that completes a verb phrase, e.g. "to jump up and down" in the sentence, "I like to jump up and down."

Notes: In my first year of graduate school, my morphology professor mentioned a recent degree candidate who was denied his doctorate because he had spelled today's word compliment throughout his dissertation. The difference between these two words is that important, so let's never confuse their spellings. Complementary is the adjective for today's word.

In Play: Here is a sentence to help us remember the difference between compliment and today's word, complement: "Anne Chovi received many compliments for selecting vegetables that were the perfect complement to the fish for her candlelight dinner." Also remember that a complement is different from what it complements, though it provides just what the other lacks: "Married couples who complement each other can be just as happy as those who are alike."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from French complément. (Where else?) French inherited the word from Latin complementum, the noun from completus "filled up, completed", the past participle of complere "to fill up, complete". This verb shakes down into com- "(together) with" + plere "to fill". Plere comes from the same source as plenus "full", a word that also went into the making of plenitas "fullness", which English borrowed as plenty. The same root shows up in Greek polys "much, many", which now appears on many English words like polyglot and polyphonic. Since Indo-European P becomes F in Germanic languages like English, we are not surprised to find the same root as full in English and voll in German. (Let us all now bow in respect to the haunting Klimt of the Alpha Agora for suggesting such a perfect complement to the other words in our series.)

Dr. Goodword,

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