Difference between Complementary and Complimentary

Key Difference: Complementary refers to something that completes or goes with something else. Complimentary refers to something that praises or says something nice about something else.

Complementary and Complimentary are two different words in the English language that actually have two different meanings. The words are homophones, which means that they sound the same, and may even look similar but in reality they have two different meanings.

The terms complementary and complimentary are also both adjectives. The term complementary comes from ‘complement’, whereas the term complimentary comes from ‘compliment.’ Like their root words, these words are also of by only one letter, that is one has an ‘i’ and the other an ‘e’. However, this makes a ton of different.

Both complementary and complimentary, and their respective complement and compliment have the same root world. Both come from Latin complementum ‎(“that which fills up or completes”), from compleō ‎(“I fill up, I complete”.) However, over time they have come to have different meanings. The term complement still has a similar meaning, i.e. to complete something, whereas compliment means a nice remark or praise given to someone. 

As complementary is rooted in complement, it follows a similar meaning. Like complement, it also refers to something that completes or goes with something else. For example: The purse is complementary to the outfit. This means that the purse goes with and completes the outfit.

Complimentary, on the other hand, has a meaning similar to compliment, in which it is rooted. Complimentary refers to something that praises or says something nice about something else. For example: John said something complimentary about Mark. Here it implies that John said something nice or gave a good remark, i.e. a compliment to Mark.

Going a step ahead, complimentary also has a secondary definition. It refers to something that is free or something that is given free or as a compliment. For example: Complimentary Chocolate, is free chocolate that is give away to someone. However, since it is not given to everyone, it can be said that it is given to someone as a way to compliment them, such as for being a great guest or customer.

Complementary also has an alternate meaning; however it is not used that commonly. It is also used in the context of medicine, where it refers to a type of medicine that is meant to be used in conjunction with the body’s natural healing services. For example, acupuncture or aromatherapy; things that are supposed to help the body heal itself.

It can still be difficult to keep track of which one means what, hence keep this mnemonic device in mind:

Compl-E-mentary = Compl-e-tes something. Here the e in Compl-E-mentary is the same as in Compl-e-te. Hence, complementary is something that completes something.

Compl-I-mentary =I get it for free. Here the I in Compl-I-mentary stand for I, i.e. me. Hence, I get things for free. Remember, compliments are also given for free.

Comparison between Complementary and Complimentary:




Definition (Oxford Dictionaries)

Combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another.

Relating to complementary medicine.

Expressing a compliment; praising or approving.

Given or supplied free of charge.


From complement, which in turn comes from From Old French, from Latin complementum ‎(“that which fills up or completes”), from compleō ‎(“I fill up, I complete”) (English complete).

From compliment, which in turn comes from French compliment, itself a borrowing of Italian complimento, which in turn is a borrowing from Spanish cumplimiento, which is borrowed from Latin complementum ‎(“that which fills up or completes”).





Describes something that completes something else, or things that work together. May also refer to alternate medical practices.

Describes something that praises someone or something or refers to something that is free.


Compl-E-mentary = Compl-e-tes something

Compl-I-mentary, I get it for free.


These two colors are complementary.

The shoes are complementary to the dress.

Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy.

She gave you a complimentary remark.

Mary was very complimentary about John’s work.

Here have a complimentary bottle of wine.

Those peanuts are complimentary.

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (Complementary and Complimentary),
English StackExchange, The Writing Site
Image Courtesy: mindjet.com, mydoorsign.com

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