I saw the following question in one of my exam papers.

What is a volatile and non-volatile memory, respectively?

  1. ROM and RAM
  2. RAM and ROM
  3. Flash and RAM
  4. Magnetic and Flash

Is this usage correct? Or is there a better way to form the question? Is it a must that we need to use the word 'respectively', when asking a question like this where order of words in the answers matter?

  • Which of the following pairs of terms refers to a form of a volatile memory and a form of non-volatile memory, respectively? Feb 13, 2021 at 12:46
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    @Edwin Thank you, that sounds perfect (for me). Feb 15, 2021 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


In my opinion, this wording is somewhat awkward because of the use of the word 'a'. RAM and ROM are types of memory, but unless it's usage that I've just never seen, one would not say, "RAM is a volatile memory." That sounds like you're talking about a personal recollection to me. The use of 'respectively' is necessary, however, because of the way the answers are patterned. It feels like the question was written by someone whose first language is not English, although that may be a flawed impression. I think, ideally, this would be two separate questions, one about volatile memory, another about non-volatile.

  • 1
    Your observation is absolutely right. This was written by someone who is not fluent in English. So am I. What if the question said, "...a volatile type and a non-volatile type memory..."? My question was whether it is ok to ask a question ending with the word 'respectively', when you expect the answer to be in proper order. Are there any better ways to ask the same? Feb 13, 2021 at 14:04

Respectively establishes a parallelism between two constructs or lists.

= in a way that relates or belongs to each of the separate people or things you have just mentioned


The exam question therefore asks you identify the option 1, 2, 3 or 4 that best matches the volatile/non-volatile pattern to the first/second terms of the option.

RAM is volatile: ROM is non-volatile; flash is non-volatile: magnetic is non-volatile. The option that parallels the volatile/non-volatile pattern set by “respectively” is thus 2.

If the word is omitted, the notion of parallelism is lost and there is ambiguity in the question. There is also obscurity, because it then asks what is volatile and non-volatile. Being opposites, there is nothing that fits such a definition!

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    Doesn't the word 'and' in the question create confusion even when used with 'respectively'? Feb 13, 2021 at 11:13
  • 1
    I agree, it does not help understanding. I would have preferred “are” to “is a”, but I focussed on the main issue of respectively.
    – Anton
    Feb 13, 2021 at 11:20

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