Free vs. Complimentary – What is Correct?

TL;DR – “Free” means without cost, while “complimentary” means provided as a courtesy or a free bonus alongside something else.

Especially or Specially

“Free” and “complimentary” are terms in the English language that both denote the absence of a charge for an item or service, yet they’re often employed in distinct contexts and can suggest different nuances.

Definition: Not costing any money; provided without the expectation of payment.

Usage: The word “free” enjoys broad applicability in numerous situations where no monetary exchange is needed.

Example Sentences:

  • “The software is available for free download.”
  • “Kids can eat for free on Sundays.”

Definition: Supplied free of charge, often as a gesture of goodwill or a bonus. Its etymology can be traced back to the English dictionary definition that refers to “complimenting” or “praising.”

Usage: “Complimentary” frequently graces service-oriented environments like hotels or events, alluding more to an extra perk or token of appreciation.

Example Sentences:

  • “Upon checking in, the hotel guests were offered complimentary drinks.”
  • “The conference provided complimentary tickets to early registrants.”

To elucidate further:

While “free” is a universal descriptor highlighting the absence of cost, “complimentary” leans towards a bonus or an additional offering, given out of courtesy or as a gesture of goodwill. This distinction becomes evident in contexts like “complimentary close” in a letter or “complimentary remarks” which tie back to the notion of a “compliment” or praise.

In essence, though they sometimes can be used synonymously, your choice between “free” and “complimentary” should hinge on the specific context and the shade of meaning you wish to emphasize.


  • What is the difference between Complementary and Complimentary?

Published on: 2023-10-03
Updated on: 2023-10-06

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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.