Before you begin please connect your laptop's power adapter and an Ethernet cable to their respective outlets.

I found this sentence on Northwestern University's website. Every time I find this type of usage of "respective", I am confused why "respective" is used and think "corresponding" is more suitable. That is, Longman dictionary defines "respective" as follows:

used before a plural noun to refer to the different things that belong to each separate person or thing mentioned

  1. We all went back to our respective homes.
  2. the respective roles of teachers and students

So, I think "respective" is used to describe the relationship "of" not "for". In my example, the outlets for the adapter and the cable, not the outlets of the adapter and the cable.

Is my understanding correct?


What definition of "corresponding" are you using that makes you believe that it is a better choice than respective?

To me "correspondence" is a relationship between things that are similar, as in the example sentence from the Merriam Webster definition:

"Robert" is a boy's name, and the corresponding name for a girl is "Roberta."

I'm talking about a direct relationship between two names which are the same type of thing. I use "respective" when there are several separate things where I don't want to list out each relationship. For example,

Other horsebreeders' associations, all doing useful work in the interests of their respective breeds, are the Suffolk Horse Society, the Clydesdale Horse Society, the Yorkshire Coach Horse Society, the Cleveland Bay Horse Society, the Polo Pony Society, the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society, the Welsh Pony and Cob Society and the New Forest Pony Association. (*)

The sentence above talks about a relationship of two separate things: an association to a breed of horse.

Here is another example where you would use "corresponding" and not "respective":

One color at a time, twist the fixture wire to the corresponding color outlet wire and replace the wire nut. (*)

Here is another example where you would use "respective" and not "corresponding":

After the party, each student returned to their respective dormitory.

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