I want to describe the relationship between two words that positively balance each other or act as positive limiting factors to each other rather than as antonyms to each other.

For example...

  • Speed and Quality. A worker may be told to "work with speed, but with quality" (as opposed to "work with speed, but with slowness", or "work with quality, yet with carelessness").
  • Intuitive and Profound. A speech may be crafted to be intuitive, yet profound (as opposed to intuitive, yet counterintuitive; or profound, yet superficial).
  • Fun and Meaningful. A game may be designed to be fun, yet meaningful (as opposed to fun, yet boring; or meaningful, yet pointless).

Rather than opposing each other, the words in this kind of relationship point to some greater, more positive concept, while preventing one side from taking over. The worker works with speed but not so much speed that he doesn't do a quality job, and the worker works with quality but not so much carefulness that he doesn't do the job quickly. I get that the context in which the words are used does matter.


Is there a word that describes these kinds of word pairs? We have synonyms and antonyms, but what about this kind of thing?

  • 1
    The first example is a trade-off, but I'm not sure that's the word you're looking for. And I'm also not sure if I would call the other examples trade-offs. It's a good question, but I think they'd be better able to answer at English SE.
    – towr
    Mar 17, 2022 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


I would say "complementary". Not "complimentary" as in saying something nice, but with an 'e', "complementary", as in completing the whole.

They are words that go together to create a more perfect union. She is beautiful and brilliant. Smart and athletic. Rich and generous. George Carlin was often simultaneously hilarious and profound.

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