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Complimentary vs. Complementary — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Urooj Arif — Updated on March 11, 2024
Complimentary means given for free or expressing praise, while complementary refers to things that enhance or complete each other well.
Complimentary vs. Complementary — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Complimentary and Complementary


Key Differences

Complimentary involves offering something at no charge, such as a complimentary drink at a restaurant, or it can pertain to giving praise and positive remarks, as in making complimentary comments about someone's work. Complementary, on the other hand, describes items, actions, or ideas that go well together, enhancing each other's qualities or completing something to make it whole. This concept can apply to a wide range of scenarios, from colors that are complementary on the color wheel to complementary skills in a team.
While complimentary aims to add value through kindness, generosity, or appreciation, complementary focuses on achieving harmony, balance, or completion by pairing elements that fit well together. For example, a software company might offer complimentary access to a premium feature for a limited time, while the same company might develop complementary products that enhance the user experience when used together.
The use of complimentary often involves an element of marketing or customer service, aimed at enhancing satisfaction, building relationships, or expressing gratitude. In contrast, the concept of complementary is fundamental in design, science, and teamwork, where the right combination of elements leads to better outcomes, efficiency, or aesthetic appeal.
Understanding the distinction is crucial in communication to avoid confusion, especially in written contexts where the two terms can be easily mistaken for one another due to their similar spelling. Using "complimentary" when "complementary" is intended (or vice versa) could mislead the audience about the nature of the relationship or offering being described.
Both complimentary and complementary add value, but in different ways: one through acts of giving and appreciation, and the other through synergy and enhanced functionality. Recognizing when to use each term enriches communication and allows for more precise expression of ideas.

Comparison Chart


Given for free or expressing praise.
Things that enhance or complete each other.


To add value through generosity or appreciation.
To achieve harmony, balance, or completion.


Marketing, customer service, social interactions.
Design, science, teamwork, strategic planning.


Complimentary breakfast at a hotel.
Complementary colors in a painting.


Kindness, generosity, positive feedback.
Harmony, synergy, functionality.

Compare with Definitions


Offered as a courtesy or bonus.
Guests received a complimentary bottle of wine upon arrival.


Items or qualities that work well together.
Their skills were complementary, leading to a successful project.


Expressing admiration or praise.
He made several complimentary remarks about her presentation.


Completes or enhances something when combined.
The sauce was a perfect complementary flavor for the fish.


Aimed at enhancing customer experience or relations.
The complimentary valet service greatly improved guests' convenience.


Based on the principle of balance or synergy.
Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel.


Can be used as a marketing strategy.
Complimentary samples were distributed to introduce the new product.


Essential for achieving optimal functionality.
The software's complementary tools offer a comprehensive solution.


Reflects a gesture of goodwill.
The manager's complimentary feedback boosted the team's morale.


Involves strategic pairing or grouping.
The seminar paired students with complementary interests for the project.


Expressing, using, or resembling a compliment
A concert that received complimentary reviews.


Forming or serving as a complement; completing
Finally acquired the complementary volumes that made a whole set.


Given as a courtesy at no charge
Complimentary copies of the new book.


Offsetting mutual deficiencies or enhancing mutual strengths
"Creatures with complementary skills flourish in each other's presence" (Richard Dawkins).


In the nature of a compliment.
A complimentary remark


Of or relating to complementary medicine.


Free; provided at no charge.
Complimentary drinks


(Genetics) Of or relating to a group of genes that act in concert to produce a specific phenotype.


With respect to the closing of a letter, formal and professional.


(Biochemistry) Of or relating to the specific pairing of the purines and pyrimidines between strands of a DNA or an RNA molecule.


Expressive of regard or praise; of the nature of, or containing, a compliment; as, a complimentary remark; a complimentary ticket.


(Physics) Of or relating to the hypothesis that underlying properties of entities, especially subatomic particles, may manifest themselves in mutually exclusive forms at different times, depending on the conditions of the observation, and that any physical model that describes entities in terms of one form or the other will be incomplete.


Conveying or resembling a compliment;
A complimentary remark


Acting as a complement; making up a whole with something else.
I'll provide you with some complementary notes to help you study.
The two business partners had complementary abilities: one had excellent people skills, while the other had a head for figures.


Costing nothing;
Complimentary tickets


(genetics) Of the specific pairings of the bases in DNA and RNA.


(physics) Pertaining to pairs of properties in quantum mechanics that are inversely related to each other, such as speed and position, or energy and time. (See also Heisenberg uncertainty principle.)


A complementary colour.


(obsolete) One skilled in compliments.


An angle which adds with another to equal 90 degrees.


Serving to fill out or to complete; as, complementary numbers.


One skilled in compliments.


Either one of two chromatic colors that when mixed together give white (in the case of lights) or gray (in the case of pigments);
Yellow and blue are complementaries


Acting as or providing a complement (something that completes the whole)


Of words or propositions so related that each is the negation of the other;
`male' and `female' are complementary terms


Of or relating to or suggestive of complementation;
Interchangeable electric outlets

Common Curiosities

What does complimentary mean?

Complimentary means provided for free as a courtesy, or expressing praise and admiration.

What are complementary things?

Complementary things are those that enhance or complete each other when combined, due to their compatible or synergistic qualities.

Is a compliment the same as something being complimentary?

A compliment is an expression of praise, which aligns with the idea of making complimentary remarks, but it's the act of giving praise rather than something being offered for free.

How do complementary colors work?

Complementary colors, found opposite each other on the color wheel, work well together and enhance each other's visual impact.

Can a service be complimentary?

Yes, services can be complimentary, like a complimentary shuttle service provided by a hotel.

Do complementary products always come from the same company?

Not necessarily; complementary products can be produced by different companies but still enhance each other's use or value.

Can a single item be complementary?

A single item typically needs another to be considered complementary; it's about the relationship between two or more items or qualities.

Can two people have complementary skills?

Yes, two people can have complementary skills that, when combined, create a more effective or comprehensive skill set.

How can businesses use complimentary offers?

Businesses often use complimentary offers, like free trials or gifts, to attract customers, build goodwill, and introduce new products.

How do complimentary services enhance customer experience?

Complimentary services, by adding unexpected value or convenience, can significantly enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

What is an example of complementary goods?

An example of complementary goods is smartphones and protective cases, where one enhances the use or longevity of the other.

Can a meal include both complimentary items and complementary flavors?

Yes, a meal can include complimentary items (like a free appetizer) and complementary flavors that enhance the dining experience.

Is feedback always complimentary?

Feedback can be complimentary if it involves praise, but it can also be constructive or critical, focusing on areas for improvement.

Why is it important to distinguish between complimentary and complementary?

Distinguishing between the two is important to avoid confusion in communication, ensuring the intended meaning is clear.

How can one identify complementary colors or designs?

Identifying complementary colors or designs often involves understanding basic principles of color theory and design, looking for elements that create balance and harmony.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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