complementary distribution


noun Linguistics.

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.

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Also called complementation.
Compare free variation.

Origin of complementary distribution

First recorded in 1930–35
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020