Can anyone familiar with English use by German speakers explain the use of "respective" as in the list of examples below?

I see this frequently from German government bureaucrats and the like, and it baffles me.

Can it be mentally substituted with some more meaningful English word? Or it is just some type of linguistic tick transliterated from German that should simply be ignored?

A respective reply is enclosed.

Have you considered the respective suggestions?

In the application, we must modify the respective wording.

Enclosed is the respective email correspondence with that agency.

Please send us a respective counterargument.

Below is a respective proposal.

The respective price for that service would be $1000.

  • #2 doesn't fit your pattern. – Helmar Nov 1 '16 at 11:31
  • Yes. In "respective suggestions," "respective" modifies a plural noun. But even in those cases, this use by Germans is odd compared to use in native English. The question is not how "respective" might be able to be used, in some odd cases, in a similar way by English speakers, but about how and why this odd "respective" appears almost invariably, in my experience, in communication from German goverment workers. – curious-proofreader Nov 1 '16 at 11:47
  • 3
    Yes, respective doesn't mean what they think it means. None of these make sense with that word because in English, 'respective' evokes a correspondence in pairs, usually via the adverb 'respectively'. I suggest that if a single English word must be used that would capture what is intended, it would be 'corresponding' (or nothing at all in the above examples). – Mitch Nov 1 '16 at 12:42
  • I second Mitch's comment, if I had to pick a single word it would be corresponding. But as I point out in my answer I think the (likely) original culprit is too versatile to be condensed into one word all the time. – Helmar Nov 1 '16 at 13:06

The usual suspects in translating, false friends

I am not familiar with that particular use by Germans speaking English. I can however point out a possible reason for this usage. There is a German word respektive which is a conjunction and respektiv which is an adjective.

For the former translation services provide the translation respectively however the positioning in the sentence is different.

Ich suche nach einem guten, respektive herausfordernden Rätsel.

I am looking for a good, or rather challenging puzzle.

I am looking for a good and challenging puzzle respectively.

The latter is rather straightforward respektiv means respective and they are used the same.

Their respective childhoods were very different.

Ihre respektiven Kindheiten waren sehr unterschiedlich. (Mind the inflection of the adjective. Otherwise this is word for word the same.)

However, the adjective is considered outdated and barely used in regular German. As a side-note, like everywhere on the planet that doesn't mean government agencies have seized using it. Furthermore, German employees in Government agencies tend to be older than elsewhere because they are verbeamtet which means they practically cannot be fired. Obviously that means the likelihood of learning English in school is lower for that generation.

While these apparent false friends might be the reason I don't think they are.

My prime suspect, a damn versatile German word

Your example sentences sound like more or less word for word translations of German sentences. If I were to re-translate it into German I'd use a completely different word. It's entsprechend. If you look at the list one of the most popular GER-ENG translation websites (in Germany) gives for entsprechend the problem becomes abundantly clear.

So, yes you can replace the usage you show with one word, it's entsprechend. Oh, to make it even worse, that's the German adjective. There is a preposition which is a homonym. Thus, I wouldn't want to pick a single English word as replacement. That's what caused the problem in the first place. A person who looked it up once, settled for respective and made it popular in his/her department.


  • dict.leo.org is a great online multilingual dictionary (with German at the center). It also has a great forum that is well-traveled by professional translators, so it is serious. If only ELU could capture that quality. – Mitch Nov 1 '16 at 12:45
  • @Mitch I agree, I totally simplified it's function :) – Helmar Nov 1 '16 at 12:46
  • It's sometimes useful purely for a single language by showing how many meanings a word has (without having to trawl through a dictionary) – Mitch Nov 1 '16 at 13:00

Without source, the following are the best expected corresponding translations, preserving as much as possible:

*A respective reply is enclosed.

A reply is enclosed.

*Have you considered the respective suggestions?

Have you considered the corresponding suggestions?

*In the application, we must modify the respective wording.

In the application, we must modify the corresponding wording.

*Enclosed is the respective email correspondence with that agency.

Enclosed is the '' email correspondence with that agency.

*Please send us a respective counterargument.

Please send us a '' counterargument.

*Below is a respective proposal.

Below is a corresponding proposal.

*The respective price for that service would be $1000.

The corresponding price for that service would be $1000.

In those sentences without an explicit word (with just '' in place), 'respective' was considered redundant. Idiomatic English (not word for word translation) might change these some more. Instead of 'corresponding', just a relative pronoun or even a definite article would do even in very formal circumstances. For example, "The price for that service..." is enough to refer to the just mentioned service out of more than one prior, so of course the price to be mentioned 'corresponds' to it.

  • I had something like if I had to choose I'd use corresponding most of the time in my answer but since it doesn't fit all I skipped it. :) – Helmar Nov 1 '16 at 13:03
  • Or: "Enclosed is the pertinent email correspondence with that agency." See the list of translations of entsprechend in @Helmar's answer. – Peter Shor Nov 1 '16 at 13:04
  • @PeterShor Yes, 'pertinent' is better in that instance. I was trying to preserve the wish of one-to-one word translation as much as possible, despite it being in general near impossible. – Mitch Nov 1 '16 at 13:07

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