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Posted by Kerry Evans | Published August 18, 2017, 09:00
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One word that frequently sneaks into places it doesn't belong is respectively. Respectively is an adverb that means "for each separately and in turn, and in the order mentioned." The correct use of respectively requires two parallel lists of corresponding items.

For example, these sentences are correct:

The values of x and y are 3.5 and 18.2, Across Military body bag DESIGNINVERSO xfpz0qqw
The samples containing mouse serum, fly serum, and control solution were labeled M, D, and C, respectively.
RNA and protein were digested with RNase A and Proteinase K, respectively.

All of these sentences outline a one-to-one correspondence between items in one list and those in another.

These sentences should not contain the word respectively:

The value of x is 3.5, and that of y is 18.2, respectively. (The values are already explicitly paired with x and y, so respectively serves no purpose.)

I’ll be staying with my aunt and college friend, respectively. (There is nothing for aunt and college friend to correspond to, so once again respectively does not relay any information.

H&E staining and immunohistochemistry staining were conducted respectively in lung sections. (Here again, there is no corresponding pair of items for the two types of staining to refer to.)

H&E staining and immunohistochemistry staining were conducted in lung, kidney, and liver sections, respectively. (Now there are two items—H&E staining and immunohistochemistry staining—in the first group but three items—lung, kidney, and liver sections—in the second, so no one-to-one relationship is possible.)

Two earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.9 and 7.3, respectively, struck in the New Britain Region of Papua New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific ocean Sunday. (via CNN) (At first it might seem as though this sentence contains two lists of items that could have a one-to-one relationship. However, the two earthquakes are not differentiated, so the use of respectively does not assign one magnitude to each specific earthquake and therefore is meaningless.)

As noted above, respectively is an adverb. Its adjective counterpart, respective, often trips people up as well.

respective adjective [ attrib. ] belonging or relating separately to each of two or more people or things: they chatted about their respective childhoods.

I can't think of a way to use respective to map one list to another; nevertheless, the word respective functions like respectively to make it clear that two or more elements correspond individually to other elements. Here are some examples:

No electron density was found for phosphatidylcholine (PC) or phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) in their respective complexes. (adapted from Ingall Annabel Tote Large Leather Isabella Black Immunity) (The use of respective makes it clear that PC and PE are in separate complexes.)

Low inflation enabled the respective central banks to reduce policy interest rates. (via The Economist) (This article, about the African economy, uses respective to make it clear that each country had its own central bank.)

A group of international researchers completed the first highly detailed map of a single chimpanzee chromosome and matched it with its human counterpart. Among the portions that lined up, only 1.4 percent of the chemical letters were different, consistent with expectations. However, the researchers found 68,000 small discrepancies where DNA had either been added or lost on the respective chromosomes. (via Discover Magazine) (Here respective is used to indicate a correspondence between chromosomes in humans and those in chimpanzees.)

Sometimes, however, the word respective adds no meaning to a sentence or shows up where the writer really means pertinent or relevant. For example:

Those who have multiple specialties should list their respective degrees. (In this case, respective is used to mean relevant.)

The drivers returned to their respective parking spots. (The sentence would be just as clear without respective. It doesn't seem necessary to clarify that each driver occupied his or her own parking spot.)

In conclusion, make sure that respectively and respective add meaning rather than confusion to your sentences, and don't confuse one with the other—or, for that matter, with respectfully (a different word altogether). Each has its respective function.


Your grammarian

Posted by
Kerry Evans
Kerry is the Senior Managing Editor for AJHG and Immunity. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with degrees in journalism and biology and intended to enter scientific journalism. However, a love of editing and a job offer from Cell Press snagged her in 2000, and she hasn’t looked back since—at least not much and not recently. She has five young children: one daughter and four sons. Among her many pursuits are backpacking with her family, foraging for wild foods, and creating (and eating) delicious food.

Filed to Grammar


Jaime Dermody

2018/5/21 上午7:00:20

It is proper grammar to use "respectively" in my prose before a list, e.g., "The first three pitches were measured at these speeds, respectively: 100, 105, and 106 miles per hour.". The reason I ask is that I am uncomfortable using ", respectively" after a list prefaced by a colon.

Kerry Evans

2018/5/21 下午7:33:16

Ingall Black Annabel Tote Isabella Large Leather I don't see any reason that wouldn't work. The main requirement is that "respectively" link members of one set to members of another in a one-to-one fashion. That seems to be the case in your example. I think it would also be fine to write "The first three pitches were measured at these speeds: 100, 105, and 106 miles per hour, respectively."

Liu Ming

2018/8/15 下午9:45:09

Hi, kerry, Can I Use respectively as the following sentence"the mean concentrations of Cu, Zn in alfisols and andisols were 30.2, 38.2, 40.5, 45.3 mg kg-1, respectively.",or "the concentrations of A, B in C and D were 30.2, 38.2, 40.5, 45.3 mg kg-1, respectively." is it right?
Thank you

Kerry Evans

2018/8/15 下午10:28:21

No, unfortunately I don't think that works because "respectively" follows a list of four values, but there is not a corresponding list of four for these values to refer to. Even if you remove "respectively," I actually find the sentence a bit unclear as to what the values refer to. You'd need to say something like "The mean concentration of Cu in alfisols and andisols was 30.2 and 38.2 mg/kg, respectively, and that of Zn was 40.5 and 45.3 mg/kg, respectively" (if you mean that the concentration of Cu in alfisols was 30.2 mg/kg, the concentration of Cu in andisols was 38.1 mg/kg, that of Zn in alfisols was 40.5 mg/kg, and that of Zn in andisols was 45.3 mg/kg). I hope this helps.

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