Here are two words that tend to be confused – not the words themselves, of course, I’m sure they know what they mean and how to spell themselves – in certain circumstances.

Take the old-fashioned compliments slip, used to add one’s good wishes or hello to an item sent to someone. And we know someone is being complimentary about us when they say nice things. All good so far.

Then there’s complement and complementary. I first came across the word complement in a Latin lesson where it was used to describe, for example, the word ‘good’ in a sentence like ‘the boy is good,’ where the adjective carried the same case as the noun, as though the phrase was actually ‘the good boy.’ With me so far?

The confusion arises when you consider the word complementary/complimentary. The former completes or supports something, the latter says something nice.

So imagine my consternation when I was invited to a complimentary webinar the other day. I was about to scoff in contempt, thinking, ‘I doubt this is a webinar where they’re going to say nice things about me.’ Surely they’re offering a complementary webinar, where the webinar supports the product I’ve just bought?

But then, I thought, maybe they did mean complimentary, in a sense that the webinar was free, gratis, for nothing. I had to grudgingly give them the benefit of the doubt. Coulda gone either way.

I know, I should get out more, it’s true…

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