Respectively vs. Respectfully: Different Meanings Revealed

At first glance, respectively and respectfully both seem to mean "with respect." After all, the word respect is right there in each word! But even though these words sound and look similar, their meanings are different — and mixing them up could totally change your meaning.

Respectively - People Playing Volleyball and Tennis vs Respectfully - Woman soldier salutes Respectively - People Playing Volleyball and Tennis vs Respectfully - Woman soldier salutes
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How Respectively and Respectfully Differ

Respectively and respectfully are both adverbs, but they're not synonyms. Because respect has more than one definition, respectively and respectfully reference two different concepts.

  • respectfully - with respect
  • respectively - in that order

Respectfully uses the everyday definition of respect, which is "admiration for others." You can respect your teachers, or your grandfather, or any other person with admirable traits. However, respectively refers to a more formal definition of respect, which is "related to" (such as in phrases "with respect to" or "in one respect").

Respectfully Meaning: With Respect

If you're trying to say someone did something in an honorable or admirable way, then you want the word respectfully. The adverb respectfully describes an action that was done with respect. For example:

  • The soldiers saluted respectfully when their commanding officer walked by.
  • Every student has the right to be treated respectfully at school.
  • My niece is learning to wait respectfully when it's not her turn.
  • We respectfully observed a moment of silence to honor our friend.

Adjective Form: Respectful

When you add the suffix -ful to respect, you get the adjective respectful — "with respect." While respectfully describes an action that was performed with respect, respectful describes a noun that shows respect. For example:

  • The respectful soldiers saluted when their commanding officer walked by.
  • Every student has the right to respectful treatment at school.
  • My niece is learning respectful patience when it's not her turn.
  • We observed a moment of respectful silence to honor our friend.

Meaning of Respectively: In the Order Provided

The only context in which you'd use the adverb respectively is when pairing items in a list. These types of sentences often contain compound subjects and compound predicates, and the word respectively helps to sort out which subject belongs with which predicate. For example:

  • My mom and brother love pickles and potato chips, respectively. (My mom loves pickles; my brother loves potato chips.)
  • Owen and Sarah play volleyball and tennis, respectively. (Owen plays volleyball, Sarah plays tennis).
  • The birds and squirrels ate all the seeds and acorns, respectively. (The birds ate the seeds; the squirrels ate the acorns.)
  • Donna and Charlene are bringing appetizers and desserts, respectively. (Donna is bringing appetizers; Charlene is bringing desserts.)
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Adjective Form: Respective

You can use the adjective respective in situations where different nouns correspond to different plural direct objects. For example:

  • My mom and brother love their respective snacks. (Each person loves their own snack.)
  • The kids enjoy playing their respective sports. (Each kid enjoys their own sport.)
  • The animals ate their respective treats. (Each animal ate their own treat.)
  • Donna and Charlene are bringing their respective dishes. (Each person is bringing her own dish.)

Mixing Them Up Leads to Confusion

As you can see, respectively and respectfully don't have much to do with each other. So what happens when you mix them up?

  • The politician addressed the crowd respectfully. (He addressed them with respect.)
  • The politician addressed the crowd respectively. (He addressed each person individually, in order.)
  • Perry and Camilla received cash and a dollhouse for Christmas, respectfully. (They were respectful when they opened their presents.)
  • Perry and Camilla received cash and a dollhouse for Christmas, respectively. (Perry received cash; Camilla received a dollhouse.)

Be sure which meaning you're trying to convey before writing respectively and respectfully! A small word choice error can lead to major confusion from readers.

Memory Trick: Remember the Antonyms

If the above examples haven't convinced you that respectively and respectfully are different words, there's another quick trick to try. Think of the antonyms of these words to sort out their meanings.

WordAntonymMeaning of Antonym
respectfullydisrespectfullywithout respect
respectivelyirrespectivelynot related; regardless

When you're pondering whether to use respectively or respectfully, consider the opposite word. Disrespectfully describes a disgraceful or unacceptable action; irrespectively refers to two ideas or items that are not related to each other.

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Treat Your Readers Respectfully

Writing clearly helps you to communicate your point to readers. When you mix up confusing word pairs such as respectively and respectfully, it can muddle what you're trying to say. For more tips on writing clearly, check out: