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I got an email today:

Medical will be sending some people over to give a talk, namely Joe Foo and Bob Bar.

I know the dictionary says namely means:

adverb /ˈnāmlē/  That is to say; to be specific (used to introduce detailed information or a specific example) - to me there is only one kind of rock, namely, loud rock

But I always thought it means "mainly" from context, e.g., "The students are rioting, namely the engineering students."

What does it mean to you?

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Pretty much that: to specify. As a matter of speech, it allows you to add emphasis by placing the named subject at the end of a sentence. Consider the tone of "the engineering students cause a lot of trouble" against "some students cause a lot of trouble, namely the engineering students." –  mfe Apr 21 '11 at 18:33
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you were to remove namely from your examples and rephrase the clauses, the new sentences would still be independently accurate:

Medical will be sending some people over to give a talk, namely Joe Foo and Bob Bar.

  • Medical will be sending some people over to give a talk.

  • Medical will be sending Joe Foo and Bob Bar over to give a talk.

The students are rioting, namely the engineering students.

  • The students are rioting.

  • The engineering students are rioting.

Namely just offers more information. It is useful when introducing basic ideas followed by an added degree of specificity. Your intepretation of namely to mean mainly or primarily is probably a corruption of the fact that the specified group is a subset of a larger group which could include any number of other subset groups: literature students, business students, science students, for example. Namely is intended to single out just one subset from a larger group.

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Namely, here, is used to connect an additional information to the clause. You could also say:

Medical will be sending some people over to give a talk, 'specifically' Joe Foo and Bob Bar.

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