Complacent, Complaisant

By Sharon

It’s easy to mix up these two words, but there’s a world of difference in their meanings.

Complacent means self-satisfied or smug and derives in part from the Latin verb placere (to please). Example:

He felt complacent about his excellent examination results.

Complaisant, on the other hand, means eager to please or obliging.  An example of its use is:

He had thought she might oppose him, but found that she was surprisingly complaisant.

6 Responses to “Complacent, Complaisant”

  • Levi Stribling

    A question about ‘complaisant’. My friend and I are currently at odds about this. Which preposition comes after complaisant? Is it ‘with’? Is it ‘to’ or ‘toward’? Just curious.

  • norhatom

    well the two words are pronunced slightly the same. Many of us and even students especially may not notice this.This will further confuse learners especially 2nd language learners. What do you think?

  • Sharon Hurley Hall

    Brad, compliant comes from the Latin for ‘to complete’ and the dictionary of etymology lists ‘be complaisant with’ as one of the meanings for comply.

    Rick, I don’t hear the word much, but I do see it in books. According to Collins English Dictionary, the use of ‘complacent’ as a synonym for ‘complaisant’ is obsolete.

  • RickMinor

    Good Morning, Now I am really confused. I guess my example would be: If I am speaking with two different employees and I tell one that they are complacent and the other that they are complaisant I will get the same negative response from both, even though I have two different meanings in mind. To further muddle the issue, gives both meanings for the word complacent. Is there much usage of the word complaisant? Quite honestly, I’ve never encountered the word before today.

    Thank you,

  • Brad K.

    I wonder if compliant is a corruption of complaisant? Interesting.

  • Toga

    Thanks for your information

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