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  • Writer's pictureAmanda George

Complimentary / complementary / free drink?

Can you spot a confusion?

If so, you might make a good proof-editor. That’s a proofreader and copy-editor, rolled into one. Because we are like ninjas. Our superpower is multitasking.


Proof-editors need to know THINGS. But we can’t be expected to know EVERYTHING – even if we are meant to be ‘perfect’. Rolls eyes. Yes, I know (my business name).


I get instincts about THINGS, which I have to investigate (using Judith Butcher, New Hart’s Rules, NODWE, even Grammar Girl). Looking something up doesn’t mean we don’t know THINGS. It just means we know when and where to look – and why it matters.  


Here are some examples of THINGS I had to check.


I am an advocate of/for something [here advocate is used as a noun]

I advocate something [here it is used as a transitive verb]

🚫 I advocate for something [this combo is not standard English, no preposition needed]


It’s nearly time to go home [nearly can be used with positive forms]

It’s almost time to go home [almost can be used with positive and negative forms]

She has been learning Italian so long she is almost fluent [in the sense of ‘similar to’]

She almost never finishes work on time [almost can be used with negatives]

🚫 She nearly never finishes on time [nearly should not be used with negatives]

🚫 Nearly nobody went to the concert [ditto]


Bear with me, please [as in 'carry it', 'endure it' with me]

🚫 Bare with me, please [that’s a whole different thing]


It was the principle that mattered [as in a fundamental truth or belief system]

She was the college principal [she was in charge]

This was the principal point of the presentation [as in the main point]

🚫 He was the principle of the school [nope]

🚫 She has good principals [nope]

🚫 This wasn't the principle point of the seminar [nope]


The drinks were complimentary [they were free, back of the net]

She was complimentary about the drinks [she said nice things about them; they were free]

The drinks complemented the snacks [the drinks and snacks went well together]

🚫 The drinks were not complementary, she was not complementary about this situation, and the drinks did not compliment the snacks [nope, nope, nope]


This cat is larger than that one [larger than = simple comparison]

This cat is large compared to that one [large compared to = simple comparison]

🚫 This cat is larger compared to that one [larger compared to = double comparison, nope]


The two languages are quite distinct from each other [they are different to each other]

She has a very distinctive accent [it is unusual]

🚫 The two cakes are distinctive from each other [nope]

🚫 The cake is very distinct [nope]


The use of corporal punishment has been banned [it affects the body (Latin = corpus)]

That was no ghost – what you saw was corporeal [as in the concept of having a body]

🚫 I hate the use of corporeal punishment [nope]

🚫 That wasn’t corporal – it was a fantom [nope]


Did you know all of these? If yes, high five!


Did you disagree with any? If so, tell me more. Sharing is learning.  

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