Respective or Respectable – A Mystery in Malaysia

Public Services

A Malaysian mystery is this “I am happy to work for your respective firm…”

The word, ‘Respective’ according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is an adjective to be used before a noun. It is defined as, “belonging or relating separately to each of the people or things already mentioned”. In other words, ‘Respective’ brings the meaning of making a comparison to each of the separate people or things mentioned earlier.

Therefore, the word, ‘Respective’ should only be used when there is more than one party being referred to. It should not be used when one is referring to a party alone. For example, Adam and Alice are colleagues working in the same office. They rush back to their respective homes after work. Here, I’m relating to Adam and Alice who are working in the same place but they will go separate ways after work. The word ‘Respective’ helps to bring out the comparison here.

One mistake to be avoided while using the word ‘Respective’ is, do not add in the word ‘Respective’ when you are only referring to one party alone. An example would be, “It is a great honour to pay a visit to Anthony’s house”. It would be wrong to add in the word ‘Respective’ into the sentence, “It is a great honour to pay a visit to Anthony’s respective office”. This is because I did not refer to other parties in the sentence. I’m referring to Anthony alone. Thus, the word, ‘Respective’ should not be used here.

Writers make this common mistake in the sentence, “It is a great honour to pay a visit to Anthony’s respective office” because they wanted to express the feeling of admiration towards people or things and often confused with the word, ‘Respectable’. ‘Respectable’ is the correct word to replace the word ‘Respective’ in the sentence, “It is a great honour to pay a visit to Anthony’s respectable office”

Confusion may arise because of both ‘Respective’ and ‘Respectable’ are adjectives and their root word is ‘Respect’. However, while ‘Respectable’ brings about the same meaning as the root word, which also means eminent and distinguished; ‘Respective’ on the other hands relating to people and things, which means relative and comparative. Both these words have different meaning although originating from the same root word.

Lastly, use the word, ‘Respective’ only when you are relating to more than one party. Avoid using it while you are referring only to one party.

Ng An Ni

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