I Don’t Respect the Word “Respective”

I hate the words “respective” and “respectively.” They are, I insist, unnecessary, clumsy, and clankingly old-fashioned words.

I’m going to begin today’s post by conceding that it’s possible to use respectively effectively. Here’s an example from an item about a Stravinsky festival in the May 3, 2010 New Yorker:

This week’s performances of “Oedipus Rex” and “The Soldier’s Tale” are narrated by Jeremy Irons and Alex Baldwin, respectively.  CORRECT

“Respective” and “respectively” are useful sorting words. That sentence in The New Yorker helps us figure out what’s going on: Jeremy Irons will narrate “Oedipus Rex,” and Alec Baldwin will narrate “The Soldier’s Tale.”

But few writers seem to use these words so precisely and elegantly. I keep coming across sentences in which respective adds nothing at all (except, perhaps, a flavor of bygone pomposity). Here are three examples:

1.  The bride and groom, followed by their respective parents, led the guests into the reception hall.

I would delete “respective.” It’s obvious that the bride and groom were followed by their own parents.

2.  After saying good-bye to their respective friends, Mary and Jo put their suitcases into the car and drove off to college.

I would delete “respective.” It’s obvious that Mary and Jo said good-bye to their own friends.

The candidates set aside their respective views and sat down to hammer out a bipartisan plan.

I would change “respective views” to “differences.”

Professional writers strive to make every word matter. Let’s make a resolution to follow their example!

Sign with word unnecessary turned into necessary


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