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The Confusion of Complacent vs. Complicit

Complacent vs. complicit are easily confused words.

Most spell-check programs probably wouldn’t catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check looks for words that aren’t in its dictionary or words that resemble words in its dictionary but might be spelled wrong but spell-check isn’t perfect. It can’t read your mind or guess what word you wanted or meant to use. It only judges the words on the page. If the words you used are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect or predictive text suggests words that start with the same letter or letters and suggests what word you may want to save you a bit of time, but its suggestions are often pretty off base. Sometimes they don’t help you out, but they will make you laugh.

The varying definitions of complacent vs. complicit

Complacent (“kuhm-play-sihnt”) is an adjective that describes someone who is generally satisfied with conditions and too comfortable to complain or raise a fuss.

Complicit (pronounced “kuhm-pliss-itt”) is an adjective that describes someone guilty of being an accessory to someone else’s criminal or immoral behavior. Maybe they were involved in it, are covering it up, or maybe they’re guilty because they refuse to call out wrongdoing or some type of corruption that they are aware of.

The following story uses both words correctly:

So many townsfolk were convinced that Clayton had been complicit in a recent robbery involving his friends. Thankfully when the robbery case was brought to court, the defense was able to prove reasonable doubt. The jury couldn’t be complacent and submit a guilty verdict for another boy from the wrong side of the tracks.

Related articles:  Between vs. Among, Over vs. More Than

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By Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher is a freelance writer and editor specializing in business writing and marketing. She holds a bachelor's degree in media and journalism and has contributed to a slew of printed and online media, including Contra Costa Times, Daily American, the The Tri-Town News,, and many more.

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