Respectfully Versus Respectively

Group of office executives bowing and shaking hands respectfully after an event
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Although the words respectfully and respectively are derived from the same root, they have different meanings.

Meanings

The adverb respectfully means (to act or speak) with respect, courtesy, or high regard. The adjective form is respectful, full of respect.

The adverb respectively means one by one, in the order stated. The adjective form is respective.

Usage Notes

"Respectively means in the order designated or mentioned; respectfully means characterized by or showing respect or deference. Even though, in Shakespeare's day, respectively apparently meant respectfully, the word in that sense has long been obsolete."

(Fiske)

The adverb respectively is used to indicate segregatory meaning, and also tells us which constituents go with which when there are two parallel coordinate constructions. For example, if there are two sets of conjoins [A] and [B] . . . [C] and [D], respectively makes clear that [A] goes with [C], and [B] goes with [D]. It can be added to the front or end of the second coordinate construction. Some illustrations follow:

  • John, Peter, and Robert play football, basketball, and baseball respectively.
    [= John plays football, Peter plays basketball, and Robert plays baseball.]
  • Arnold and his son were respectively the greatest educator and the greatest critic of the Victorian age.
    [= Arnold was the greatest educator of the Victorian age, and his son was the greatest critic of the Victorian age.]
  • Smith and Jones are going to Paris and to Amsterdam respectively.

The respectively construction is generally limited to formal discourse. In other contexts it smacks of pedantry."

(Quirk and Greenbaum)

Examples

"He looked her right in the eye when he asked a question, listened respectfully as she answered, and never told her she'd be such a pretty girl if only she'd lose a few pounds."

(Fielding)

"At the moment his Majesty appeared, a universal, delighted, enthusiastic smile ought to break out like a rash among the passengers—a smile of love, of gratification, of admiration—and with one accord, the party must begin to bow—not obsequiously, but respectfully, and with dignity."

(Twain)

"Almost 80 percent of New York's millennials reside in three counties: New York County, Queens County and Kings County, where Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn respectively are located."

(Stilwell and Lu)

"I respectfully disagree with you. Francesco, Marta, and Diego were a dentist, an architect, and a surgeon, respectively."

(Sommer)

Practice Questions

  1. Anne, Dan, and Nan—a sixth grader, a fourth grader, and a third grader  _____— begin every day with one hour of schoolwork.

  2. The best teachers always speak _____ about their students, even when the students are not around.

  3. "John had _____ waited for his mother to finish her remembrances.

  4. "A couple other non-debuts finished right behind Adele, with Justin Bieber and Rihanna locking in the second and third spots _____."

Answers to Practice Questions

  1. Anne, Dan, and Nan—a sixth grader, a fourth grader, and a third grader respectively—begin every day with one hour of schoolwork.

  2. The best teachers always speak respectfully about their students, even when the students are not around.

  3. "John had respectfully waited for his mother to finish her remembrances."
    (Angelou)

  4. "A couple other non-debuts finished right behind Adele, with Justin Bieber and Rihanna locking in the second and third spots respectively."
    (Khari)

    Resources and Further Reading

    • Angelou, Maya. The Heart of a Woman. Random House, 1981.
    • Fielding, Joy. Heartstopper. Atria, 2007.
    • Fiske, Robert Hartwell. The Dimwit's Dictionary: 5,000 Overused Words and Phrases and Alternatives to Them. Marion Street, 2002.
    • Khari. "Adele, Rihanna and Justin Bieber Reign Supreme in This Week’s Music #Wrapsheet." The Source, 23 Feb. 2016.
    • Sommer, Sue. The Bugaboo Review: a Lighthearted Guide to Exterminating Confusion about Words, Spelling, and Grammar. New World Library, 2011.
    • Stilwell, Victoria, and Wei Lu. “These Are the 13 Cities Where Millennials Can't Afford a Home.” Bloomberg Businessweek, 8 June 2015.
    • Twain, Mark. The Innocents Abroad. Collins Clear-Type, 1869.
    • Quirk, Randolph, and Sidney Greenbaum. A University Grammar of English. Longman, 1985.