Q. When I see the word “respectively” used, what does that mean exactly?
When you see the word respectively used, it is to tell you that what is being written matches the order of an earlier mentioned sequence. If that doesn’t make sense, an example is easier:
“John and Sara had the highest scores on the test, with a 98 and 96, respectively.”
In that sentence, John’s name comes first and Sara’s name comes second. The score of 98 comes first and the score of 96 comes second. Therefore you can match up the score of 98 with John and the score of 96 with Sara.
The word “respectively” allows the sentence to be shortened. Without the use of respectively, the sentence would be unclear, or it would have to be written in a longer way, such as “John and Sara had the highest scores on the test. John had a 98 and Jane had a 96.”