Definition of complementary distribution in English:

complementary distribution

Pronunciation /ˌkämpləˌmen(t)ərē ˌdistrəˈbyo͞oSHən/ /ˌkɑmpləˌmɛn(t)əri ˌdɪstrəˈbjuʃən/ /ˌkämpləˌmentrē ˌdistrəˈbyo͞oSHən/ /ˌkɑmpləˌmɛntri ˌdɪstrəˈbjuʃən/

noun

  • The occurrence of speech sounds in mutually exclusive contexts.

    ‘bilabials were in complementary distribution with labiodentals’
    • ‘Next, given the standard formulation of binding conditions A and B, it is predicted that anaphors and pronominals be in strict complementary distribution, that is, anaphors can occur only where pronominals cannot, and vice versa.’
    • ‘These two sounds do not occur in the same environment; they are in complementary distribution.’
    • ‘These lexical pairs tend to be in complementary distribution.’
    • ‘In more prestigious varieties of Spanish, the clitic and object noun phrase are in complementary distribution (La vi or Vi a la mujer).’