Is it complimentary or complementary colors that we apply when we paint? Complementary colors are critical to understand and use as painters. However, I always wonder why the word complementary is so often misspelled as complimentary?
When I began painting, I remember the confusion and no one seemed to be able to clarify that confusion. I know I struggled keeping it straight. After I began studying color vigorously, I noticed that color book authors always spelled complementary with an “E,” though they never explained the reason behind it.
In the English language, we have many words that are confusing — they sound the same but are spelled differently with very different meanings, such as:
- where, wear and ware
- their and there
- pear, pair and pare
- sea and see
- whey, weigh, whey
- root and route
- …and what others can you think of?
This is one of the reasons why English is difficult to master as a second language.
No two words are more often used incorrectly than complimentary and complementary. Most people don’t know when and how to use each and it has nothing to do with COLOR! Contrary to popular belief, the two are not interchangeable and are, in fact, used to highlight entirely different situations.
In my recent travels, I snapped photos of these two signs. Which one is spelled correctly and which is not?
Clarifying the Use of Complimentary or Complementary Colors:
Let’s refer to a good old standard and check out their definitions in the Webster dictionary.
expressing praise or admiration : expressing or containing a compliment <a complimentary remark>b : favorable <the novel received complimentary reviews>
given free as a courtesy or favor <complimentary tickets>
Complimentary 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 easiest way to remember when to use complementary is when you comment on the completion of a set or a group. So, you might say one of the following:
“The tiles really complement the floor”.
“The new software update will complement the existing system”.
“This pair of shoes will complement my dress”.
We can summarize this information and use both words across two instances in a few sentences. Here are couple of examples:
The curator offered me a complimentary coffee so I complimented her on her generosity. But I observed that the less than satisfying coffee did not complement the gallery’s exquisite art collection.
The art instructor complimented the student for her lovely use of complementary colors in her painting.
If you are still unsure, another trick you can use is to ask yourself whether or not the compliment/complement is talking to its subject. For example, my brushes aren’t talking to my paints, so therefore my brushes complement my paints. Yet I can pay a colleague a compliment when I tell her that her paints look stunning in a particular painting.
Another factor that plays a role in understanding the use of these words when talking about color, is that the root word for complementary is ‘complete.’ Knowing this can help you remember the correct spelling because the colors that are opposite from each other on the color wheel – known as complementary colors – include all three primaries of red, yellow and blue in various ratios. In other words, complementary colors ‘complete’ the color wheel.
Have I clarified the confusion of complimentary or complementary colors? Please let me know.
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