Commonly Confused Word Pairs: Complementary/complimentary

July 2, 2009: Issue 296

He orders a beer and settles on a stool. He hears a voice beside him say “Nice tie.” The guy looks right and left, but he’s the only person at the bar. He takes a drink, and the voice says “Cool haircut.” The guy shakes his head, blinks his eyes, and takes another swig. The voice pipes up again: “You’re one handsome man.”

“Hey,” the guy says to the bartender. “I keep hearing this voice. What’s the deal?”

“It’s the peanuts,” the bartender says. “They’re complimentary.”

The word complimentary describes a bowl of peanuts—or anything else—that’s either flattering or free. When you want to say that something works well with something else, use the word complementary.

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