Complimentary vs. Complementary – What is correct?

Especially or Specially

Complimentary vs. Complementary: Navigating the Nuances in English

In the intricate tapestry of the English language, homophones – words that sound alike but differ in meaning – often pose challenges even for seasoned speakers and writers. “Complimentary” and “complementary” stand as classic examples of this linguistic conundrum. Despite their phonetic similarities, these words have distinct definitions and usages.


Definition: Derived from the English word “compliment,” “complimentary” serves a dual purpose:
(a) To convey expressions of praise or admiration.
(b) To describe something provided as a courtesy, free of charge.

(a) His work received complimentary remarks from the critics.
(b) Upon arriving in New York, our hotel welcomed us with complimentary drinks.

Across various contexts, from complimentary tickets to events in Chicago to complimentary close in a letter, this term emphasizes either admiration or gratuitous provision. It’s not uncommon, for example, to find complimentary things like drinks, breakfast, or even WiFi in places like hotels or lounges.


Definition: Hailing from the Latin “complementum,” this term refers to entities that enhance, complete, or pair well with one another. In essence, they supplement each other in such a manner that the value or functionality of the combined entities is greater.


  • The new Dutch and Italian chefs bring complementary culinary skills to the restaurant.
  • Chinese traditional medicine and Western medicine can sometimes work as complementary treatments.

A snapshot of English grammar books or an English dictionary would reiterate the distinctions between these terms. It’s also worth noting that while “complimentary” often finds its synonyms in words like “flattering” or “praising,” “complementary” aligns more with “mutually beneficial” or “enhancing.”

Mnemonic Aid:
To steer clear of confusion, recall that “ComplEmentary” contains an “E,” akin to “Enhance,” denoting how complementary entities enhance each other. On the flip side, “ComplImentary” houses an “I,” reminiscent of the phrase “It’s free,” spotlighting the no-cost aspect of complimentary items.


The nuances between “complimentary” and “complementary” encapsulate the beauty and intricacy of English, drawing from its etymology rooted in Latin, Greek, and other languages. Whether you’re crafting a message in Spanish, French, or German or simply seeking the word of the day, understanding these nuances guarantees clarity in communication. For those ever in doubt, a quick check with a thesaurus or tools like IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) can be a trusty guide.


  • What is an example of complementary and complimentary?

Published on: 2023-09-30
Updated on: 2023-10-05

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Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. As an SEO Professional, Isaac has considerable expertise in On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, and Technical SEO, which gives him a leg up against the competition.