Differentiating Between Commonly Confused Words, Part 2

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2 min readDec 30, 2021


by Pamela Ross

Let’s get back to basics and go over the differences between some words that we’ve seen confused on the site (not sight!) before. ​​You can reference Part 1 here.


Complimentary is used when something is free or when someone is given an actual compliment.

Example: With the purchase of an entrée, bread is complimentary.

The professor’s complimentary feedback made her feel confident going into exams.

Complementary is used when something completes something else, like when two things go well together.

Example: Several styles of rings are available, which can be paired with complementary accent stones.


Council is the word for an advisory group or meeting.

Example: Given ongoing budget constraints, the town council decided against tax cuts this year.

Counsel is the word for advice, an individual giving advice or guidance, or the verb indicating such action.

Example: Unsure of what to do, the junior associate turned to her mentor for counsel.

It was recommended he ask a professional for legal counsel.


Cite, which is often used when making reference to something, typically functions as a verb.

Site can be either a noun or a verb referring to a place or the act of finding a place for something. Sight is usually concerned with the act or action of seeing.

Example: Plagiarism is a serious transgression, so make sure to cite sources correctly in your research paper.

Everyone pitched in to clear the site of brush and set up tents before nightfall.

The beach at sunset is a stunning sight.


Lightning is the electrical discharge that happens during storms — think Ben Franklin and his kite experiment (however apocryphal the story may be).

Example: Though people fear being struck by lightning, it’s an extremely rare phenomenon.

Lightening is the present participle of the verb “lighten” and has to do with color or weight, literal or figurative.

Example: Changing the nursery’s paint shade had a lightening effect.

Mary grabbed the other end of the couch, lightening the load for her father.

Everyone loved inviting Gregory to parties; his jokes had a way of lightening the mood.



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