Judy Nollet
White Plume Communications

writer, instructional designer, eLearning developer

With My Compliments

The restaurant owner wanted to encourage the sale of spirits, so the bottom of the menu said, "Enjoy a complimentary bottle of wine with your dinner."

And my high-school English teacher got the wine for free.

That's right. Complimentary means supplied free of charge. My teacher pointed this out to the owner, who graciously agreed to abide by what was written—and who probably had his menus corrected as soon as possible to prevent other spelling-savvy patrons from taking advantage of the mistake.

The wine the owner intended to mention, of course, was a complementary one, with an e in the second syllable rather than an i. A complementary wine would enhance the quality of the meal.

This is one of those frustrating errors that spell-checkers can't detect. Here's the trick I use to remember the difference:

To complement is to complete. Yes, as in the overused quote from Jerry Maguire: "You complete me." Both use e in the second syllable.

To recall the word meaning without charge, say to yourself, "I give compliments freely." This associates i with free, as in complimentary.

Now that you know the difference, look carefully at menus. Maybe you'll find that learning how to spell can save you some money.

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Copyright Judy Nollet, White Plume Communications. 
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