a relation such that the members of a pair or set of phones, morphs, or other linguistic units have no environment in common, as aspirated “p” and unaspirated “p” in English, the first occurring only in positions where the second does not.
Words nearby complementary distribution
Compare free variation.
Origin of complementary distribution
First recorded in 1930–35
Also called complementation.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019