Complementary and Complimentary

Commonly Confused Words

complimentary and complementary
The hugs being offered by these women are complimentary (free of charge). (Magdalena Frackowiak/Getty Images)

Like the nouns and verbs complement and compliment, the derived adjectives complementary and complimentary are easily confused. These word pairs are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The adjective complementary (with an e in the second syllable) means serving to complete or supplying mutual needs.

The adjective complimentary (with an i in the second syllable) means flattering or favorable or given free as a courtesy.

Examples

  • "The wedding parties' outfits do not match but are complementary, as if they have been ordered especially, one for each arch of the golden façade."
  • "The classic complementary relationship is that of mother and child. In a complementary relationship, one person is dominant or superior and one person is submissive or inferior; one person defines the relationship and the other accepts the definition." 
  • "Most sports organizations provide at least two complimentary tickets per game to players, coaches, administrators and full-time staff members. Any tickets over and above two per game requested by these individuals usually need to be purchased at face value."
  • "Once I made some complimentary remark to a girl about her complexion, and she started to sing the praises of a new cosmetic she had brewed out of beet tops when suddenly she stopped short with the remark that if she told anybody the spell would be broken and the charm wouldn't work."

    Usage Notes

    • "The words [complementary and complimentary] come from the same Latin root, complere, meaning to fill up, but have long had separate meanings."
    • "Complementary means 'forming a complement or addition,' as in a suit with a complementary tie, while complimentary means 'expressing praise or admiration' (a complimentary remark) and 'given freely, as a courtesy': honeymooners receive complimentary fruits and flowers."
    • "Complementary refers to the second half of a whole--a remaining part that completes what's missing, as in complementary angles."

    Practice

    1. The color directly opposite each primary color on the wheel is called its _____ color.
    2. On Free Comic Book Day, shops around the country give out _____ comic books to all customers.
    3. The back cover of Nelson's new book is filled with extremely _____ reviews.

    Answers

    1. The color directly opposite each primary color on the wheel is called its complementary color.
    2. On Free Comic Book Day, shops around the country give out complimentary comic books to all customers.
    3. The back cover of Nelson's new book is filled with extremely complimentary reviews.

    Sources

    Pam Houston, "The Best Girlfriend You Never Had." Other Voices, 1999

    Diane Sullivan Everstine and Louis Everstine,  Strategic Interventions for People in Crisis, Trauma, and Disaster, rev. ed. Routledge, 2006

    James Reese, "Ticket Operations in a Professional Sports Team Setting." Sport and Leisure Operations Management. Thomson, 2004

    Vance Randolph, Ozark Magic, and Folklore, 1964

    Bill Bryson, Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors, 2008

    Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th ed., edited by Angus Stevenson and Maurice Waite.

    Oxford University Press, 2011

    Janis Bell, Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences. W.W. Norton, 2008

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Complementary and Complimentary." ThoughtCo, Nov. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/complementary-and-complimentary-1689348. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, November 9). Complementary and Complimentary. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/complementary-and-complimentary-1689348 Nordquist, Richard. "Complementary and Complimentary." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/complementary-and-complimentary-1689348 (accessed January 21, 2018).