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I do not understand what extra meaning does the word respectively add in a sentence.

Does it add meaning like "as in the order of the things mentioned"

For example:

In the 200 metres, Lizzy and Sarah came first and third respectively.

When we say :

In the 200 metres, Lizzy and Sarah came first and third in a row.

Does the meaning of the sentence change?

How can we rewrite this sentence?

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The word "respectively" verifies that the order in the first list corresponds to the order in the second list. So, in your example, Lizzy came in first and Sarah came in third.

We could leave the word out, but then the meaning wouldn't be 100% clear:

In the 200 metres, Lizzy and Sarah came first and third.

That sentence could mean that Lizzy came in first and Sarah came in third, or it could mean that Lizzy came in third and Sarah came in first. (I think the former is more likely, but the word "respectively" removes all doubt.)

In the case of the sentence in your comment:

I bought a kitten, a bunny, and a puppy and named them Alfred, Bob, and Chuck respectively.

Yes, you can say that – it shows that your kitten is named Alfred, your bunny is named Bob, and your puppy is named Chuck.

  • Yep, the first option is much more likely to be assumed. In this specific case, respectively doesn't change the meaning much. An alternate way would be to simply say Lizzy came first and Sarah came third, as you did in your explanation. – Catija Mar 6 '15 at 21:16
  • I almost CV'd as "Basic question on meaning that should be answered using a dictionary", but I'm sure this has been asked before more than once (here or on ELU, I dunno). So maybe it's a particularly awkward concept for learners (who may not have an equivalent in their own language). Anyway, it's a nice clear answer. – FumbleFingers Mar 6 '15 at 21:22
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    Also useful if the elements of one list do not necessarily uniquely match the elements of the other list: "Fred and Sally had a water and a cola, respectively", meaning Fred had a water and Sally had a cola. Replace "respectively" with "each", and both people had two drinks. Use neither, and the meaning is totally ambiguous. – Matthew W Mar 6 '15 at 22:36
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    @Murat That would be an incorrect use as you've not got two lists to compare. Instead, you would say something like Countries which use the fewest mobile phones are A, B, C and D with A using the fewest. or, Countries which use the least mobile phones are, in increasing order, A, B, C and D. – Catija Mar 7 '15 at 2:48
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    Not mentioned, but there is a particular advantage to this format over "Countries which use the least mobile phones are, in increasing order, A, B, C, and D" which may be of interest here. "Respectively" comes at the end of the sentence, and you can put a pause in the sentence before that word. Often a speaker will believe it is very clear that they are discussing topics in order, but only at the end of the sentence realize that it was not as clear as intended. In these cases, "respectively" at the end of the sentence is an excellent chance to resolve this unintended confusion. – Cort Ammon Mar 7 '15 at 15:43
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J.R.'s answer has already covered "respectively" and I don't think there's anything to add, there.

In the 200 metres, Lizzy and Sarah came first and third in a row.

This doesn't actually make sense. "In a row" refers to doing the same thing on multiple consecutive occasions. For example, "Lizzy came first five times in a row" means that she won five races consecutively. It doesn't make sense to say "in a row" on its own unless you mean "physically arranged in a line", as in "Lizzy put her five gold medals in a row on the table."

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