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He has two sisters who live in southern and northern California, respectively.

I saw this on IMDB and I was wondering if the respectively was grammatically correct.

Since nothing is being listed off, is it even needed?


Josh Radnor, 7th in the list

If you were wondering, lol

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Related: (When can a redundant “respectively” be dropped?)[english.stackexchange.com/questions/4799/…. The answers there don't really address this use case, however. – MrHen Jul 19 '11 at 14:46
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's not needed because, as you said, nothing is being enumerated. If, instead, it said "he has a sister and a brother who live in southern and northern CA, respectively", that tells you something -- the sister lives in southern CA and the brother lives in northern CA.

I don't know if the usage you found is wrong or just unnecessary.

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I would definitely consider it an incorrect usage of the word. – devios Jul 19 '11 at 16:24

It doesn't make much sense because I'd expect it to be like this (for example):

He has two sisters, one younger and one older, who live in southern and northern California, respectively.

In this case you could associate the "couples": younger - southern, older - northern.

The usage you reported is unnecessary and confusing, I don't think it's a correct usage, since respectively refers to something previously stated which has been enumerated.

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If the tense in your example sentence was in past tense, then the "respectively" is necessary to be in the sentence because otherwise it would have looked as if both of them lived in both places before.

However, with present tense, even without the "respectively" people would understand that you mean one of them lives in southern CA while the other lives in northern CA, but if there is even a hint of ambiguity in the meaning of the sentence I would suggest to leave the word in the sentence.

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Anywhere but California I'd say the word was unnecessary, but it's entirely possible for two sisters to spend winter in southern Cal and summer in the north. (ie not respectively). – TimLymington Jul 19 '11 at 15:04
@Lukman Interesting point. There could be a certain ambiguity as to whether or not they both lived in both places without the "respectively". – devios Jul 19 '11 at 16:26

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