The Meaning of Complacent: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever been confused about the definition of complacent? This guide will provide you with all of the information you need on the word complacent, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word complacent mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, Dictionary, and Cambridge Dictionary, the word complacent (pronounced kəmˈpleɪsənt) is an adjective that describes a person who is self satisfied, especially when this person is unaware of their own deficiencies or dangers. This term is often used with a negative connotation. If you are going to call someone self-complacent, this means that  you believe the person is self-satisfied and often self-righteous. This term could be considered offensive to some, so be careful before using it. This term often implies that the person is happy where they are to their own detriment. This can imply that someone is lazy or has no further aspirations than the place that they are currently at, or that they are too scared to make the next move. For example, if someone has been in the same low wage job for fifteen years, they might be considered complacent by some others. However, if that job makes them happy and they don’t want to do anything else, why should others care if they are complacent?

The word complacent is also present in many other languages. This list of translations for the word complacent is provided by Word Sense.

  • Russian: самодово́льный‎
  • Occitan: complasent‎
  • Finnish: omahyväinen‎
  • Scottish Gaelic: somalta‎
  • Chinese – Mandarin: 得意‎ (déyì), 自滿‎, 自满‎ (zìmǎn)
  • Greek: αυτάρεσκος‎ (masc.)
  • French: suffisant‎
  • Portuguese: complacente‎
  • Hungarian: önelégült‎, öntelt‎
  • Swedish: självbelåten‎, självgod‎, egenkär‎
  • Maori: kiriora‎
  • Japanese: 独り善がり‎ (ひとりよがり, hitori-yogari)
  • Esperanto: memkontenta‎
  • German: selbstgefällig‎, selbstzufrieden‎
  • Catalan: complaent‎
  • Dutch: zelfgenoegzaam‎, makkelijk‎, zelftevreden‎, zelfingenomen‎

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word complacent?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word complacent. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. A person might choose to use a synonym in order to avoid repeating themselves or in order to expand their vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word complacent is provided by Thesaurus

  • confident
  • self-pleased
  • self-possessed
  • obsequious
  • contented
  • pleased
  • egoistic
  • egotistic
  • satisfied
  • easy-going
  • unconcerned
  • self-contented
  • happy
  • self-satisfied
  • serene
  • gratified
  • smug
  • self-righteous
  • self-assured
  • conceited

There are also many different words that have the opposite meaning of the word complacent. These are considered antonyms. Antonyms are useful to know if you are looking to expand your knowledge of the English language and grow your vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word complacent is provided by Thesaurus

  • annoyed
  • sulky
  • disappointed
  • jealous
  • dissatisfied
  • grumbling
  • vexed
  • sniveling
  • disgruntled
  • grudging
  • bothered
  • picky
  • fed-up
  • faultfinding
  • unassuaged
  • unsated
  • malcontent
  • plaintive
  • querulous
  • malcontented
  • unappeased
  • sullen
  • fretful
  • jaundiced
  • griping
  • discontented
  • ennuied
  • begrudging
  • irked
  • unfulfilled
  • unsatisfied
  • complaining
  • insatiable
  • ungratified
  • grumpy
  • kvetching
  • displeased
  • fretting
  • put-out
  • frustrated
  • critical
  • not satisfied
  • envious
  • unhappy
  • crabby
  • disaffected
  • offended

How can the word complacent be used in a sentence?

The word complacent can be used in a variety of different scenarios to describe people. However, be careful before using this word to describe someone. It is considered to have a negative connotation and should therefore be used with caution. You would not want to offend someone by calling them complacent if that is not your intent. In this first example, Maddy’s mom is annoyed at her for the grades on her report card.

Maddy’s Mom: Maddy, I don’t understand this. I know you can do  better than a C average. Last year you had straight A’s. What has gotten into you?

Maddy: Who cares if I get straight C’s? I’m passing. I want to be a hairdresser, I don’t need anything above passing. I’m not going to college.

Maddy’s Mom: Maddy, it doesn’t matter if you want to go to college or not. It matters that you’re getting complacent. I want you to push yourself to do your best no matter what. You had better get these grades up.

Maddy: Why does it even matter?

Maddy’s Mom: Because if I don’t see some effort, I am not paying for cosmetology school.

In this example, Maddy’s mom is using the word complacent to describe her daughter, who is not trying in school and therefore getting a C average when she could be doing much better. Maddy’s mom wants her to push herself to be her best, not skate on by with a low GPA. Maddy should improve her complacent attitude and try harder, especially following ehr years of succcess.

What is the origin of the word complacent?

According to Etymonline, the word complacent has been used as an adjective that means pleasing since the 1650s. This term comes from the Latin complacentem which is the nominative form of the Latin complacēns, meaning very pleasing. This is the present participle of complacēre, meaning to be very pleasing. This word has been used to mean pleased with oneself or self-satisfied since the year 1767. IT has been used in the sense of civil or pleasing since the year 1790. Related word to complacent include the noun complacence and the adverb complacently, as well as complaisance and complaisant.

Overall, the word complacent means self satisfied or pleased with oneself to the point of detriment. A person who is complacent may be unaware of their own deficiencies or to the dangers that could befall them. Complacent people are often unbothered and untroubled, and are not likely to care what others think about their complacency. The word complacent has a very negative connotation, so be careful before using it to describe another person. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/complacent
  2. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/dissatisfied
  3. https://www.etymonline.com/word/complacent
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/complacent
  5. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/complacent
  6. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/complacent
  7. https://www.wordsense.eu/complacent/#English