Is it complementary or complimentary?

Both of these spellings exist and are very often used in the wrong context; this can, of course, have a negative impact on the writer/company using the wrong version and can damage hard-won image. Some classic examples of wrong use are outlined below.


This always has the meaning of ‘completing a set/making up a whole’.

This is used when saying that a tie goes well with (complements) a shirt, for example.

It is also used to describe a number of people making up a group:

  • This ship has a complement of 256.


This has two meanings:

  • One is that someone is expressing nice things about you, saying that you or something about you looks nice (a compliment/to compliment someone).
  • The other (when used as ‘complimentary’) means that something is free of charge or done as an act of courtesy.


  • The wine compliments the meal. WRONG (This means that the wine tells the meal how nice it is!)
  • The wine complements the meal. RIGHT (They go well together.)