“Supplement” vs “Complement”: Main Differences & How To Use Both Correctly As A Writer

The words complement and supplement share similar meanings. Both of these terms refer to adding more parts to something in order to complete or enhance it. However, the two words are used in very different ways. When we want to say that something works well with something else, we use the word complement. However, we use the term supplement to refer to an additional material.

Understanding the differences between the two words is essential for effective communication and writing. In this article we’ll look at the main variances between “supplement” and “complement” and learn how to use both correctly as a writer.

What Is Supplement?

Supplement means something extra is added to improve or make an activity or object better. As a term, “supplement” can have different meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

When it comes to food, a dietary supplement adds something extra to the food value of a diet.  The supplement may be noted on the contents of the diet, but it is mixed into the dietary formula to add value. 

In the publishing world, a supplement is an additional section or issue of a newspaper, magazine, or other publication. It could be seasonal, or it could be for a particular topic to advertise or describe some special event. 

We can also see cases where the word is used in the context of doing extra. For instance, you can decide to take up a part-time job to supplement your income.  The supplement therefore adds to something that already exists.  The supplement becomes part of the original article or activity.  

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What Does Complement Mean?

Complement means to complete something by adding to it. The complementing addition adds value or enhances the original thing without changing it. A stunning suit, for example, can be enhanced by the addition of a scarf or tie. The scarf adds no new dimension to the basic costume.

If something is used to complement another object it is brought in to show the quality or value of the item that it complements.  It often refers to two items that go well together like cheese and wine for example.  Complementary situations occur in all walks of life and industries.  The medical field, in mathematics the food industry, and even in the artistic world. 

The term complement is used to describe two items that go well together.  It should be noted that compliment and complement are not the same thing.  It is easy to confuse the two words because they are so similar.  A compliment is a flattering comment about someone’s attire, ability, or any other aspect of their lives. 

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When To Use Complement or Supplement In Your Writing

The words “complement” and “supplement” have different meanings and uses, so choosing the right one depends on the context. Here’s a breakdown:

When to use “Complement”

Use “complement” as a noun to describe something that improves or completes another aspect. Use it as a verb to describe the act of enhancing or complementing something else. Despite their similarities, both variants of “complement” imply a positive pairing or augmentation.

When to use “Supplement”

Use “supplement” as a noun to refer to something added to compensate for a lack or to improve further. Use it as a verb to describe the act of adding something extra to complete or improve. Although the terms look identical, both variants of “supplement” imply an addition to compensate for a deficit or to improve further.

Here’s a helpful trick to remember

  • Complement: Think of a couple who get along really well with one another, which starts with a “c”, like complement.
  • Supplement: Think of a side dish that makes your meal more nutritionally complete, which starts with an “s”, just like a supplement.

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Examples of Sentences with Complement and Supplement


  1. The rich flavor of the red wine was a perfect complement to the savory steak.
  2. Her curiosity and analytical skills formed a complementary team dynamic.
  3. The soft throw pillows were chosen to complement the bold colors of the couch.
  4. The museum’s modern architecture is designed to complement the surrounding historic buildings.
  5. A good sauce can complement the natural flavors of fresh vegetables.

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  1. Dietary supplements can provide additional vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in your regular diet.
  2. The loan was used to supplement the existing budget for the research project.
  3. A morning workout session can supplement your fitness routine and help improve cardiovascular health.
  4. Reading books can supplement classroom learning by providing additional insights and perspectives.
  5. The company decided to supplement its product line by introducing new and innovative features.

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Difference Between Complement and Supplement

  • Both complement and supplement refer to adding extra elements to something to complete it or enhance it.
  • Complement refers to something that goes well with some other thing.
  • Supplement refers to an addition or an extra element.

FAQs On Supplement vs Complement

What is the main difference between a supplement and a complement?

Supplement means something added to complete or enhance something else, often filling a gap or deficiency. Complement on the other hand means Something that completes or goes well with something else, enhancing its qualities or making it more effective.

What are some common misconceptions about these terms?

One common misconception is that supplements and complements are interchangeable. While they can sometimes serve similar purposes, they refer to different types of relationships and enhancements.

Why is it important to distinguish between supplements and complements?

Understanding the distinction helps in accurately describing the relationship between items or concepts, whether in daily language, professional communication, or academic settings.


“Complement” implies a positive pairing or something that goes well with something else, while “supplement” is used to describe something that adds to make up for a deficiency or to make better. Practice distinguishing their roles in sentences to ensure accurate usage in different contexts.


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